Ex-Subs bassist interviewed on tour in Australia with Monica and The Explosion...
('Well no one told me about her'...)
"It was a big upheaval personally, especially as the Subs’ success grew so quickly...
...What I do feel is that Charlie, and the band, are finally getting the recognition they deserve. They are highly underrated, yet they have a legacy that extends beyond most bands of the day...
...Monica and The Explosion are my full time musical concern. We are extremely busy. We are supporting the Subs in Ireland this year, but I won’t play for the Subs and Monica and The Explosion. I don’t want to dilute the fact that I am the bass player for Monica and The Explosion. Personally, I am happy being in the support band to them..."
An interview by Marc Brekau
From time to time I engage in activities that are completely left-of-centre from my professional and personal life. I am not a writer (as the quality of this article may attest), nor am I involved in the music industry. I am not a reporter, and have no association with the media. So my offer was an unusual one to make, but I was up for the challenge. As a U.K. Subs fan, I thought it might help Monica and The Explosion and her website, and the U.K. Subs ‘Time & Matter’ team’s website, to provide a Melbourne perspective on the tour Paul and Monica were conducting down under.
My interview journey began with an email, then a series of emails, and finally a telephone call. Paul called to advise that Monica and The Explosion were playing at the Brunswick Hotel, and if I was available we could meet for a beer and a chat. Unfortunately, I missed their Sunday gig at the Empress Hotel due to a family commitment. And there was no announcement of the Arthouse gig they played on Monday, as it was a last minute ‘turn up and play’ opportunity. So tonight would be my only opportunity to see them live, as they were leaving for Sydney the next day. Had Paul not called, I would have missed them completely.
I telephoned ‘her in doors’ to say that I’d not be home for dinner. "Oh", she said, inquisitively. “Sorry, but I’m going to see a gig tonight, at short notice I know.” “Okay dear”, she said. No surprise or anger in her response, which was positive given that I failed to detail my exact plans for the evening. I could have said, “look darling, I’m going to see a gig tonight at short notice, to interview a young blond lady from Sweden, and a punk rocker from England. Neither of whom I have met before, for the sole purpose of writing an article that offers no personal or professional gain, other than the personal satisfaction of writing. I know this will preclude my attendance at dinner this evening, and take me away from my visiting brother, who I have not seen in two years and my new sister in law, both of whom arrived from the Middle East the day prior. I know I don’t have to do this, but it’s something I have to do. Hope you don’t mind, see you later...”
I have to say that I’m never surprised by her in doors’ response when I announce I have something planned for the evening or weekend. After all, I have undertaken ‘unusual’ activities in the past. Like the time I attended an all day punk festival in Adelaide one Friday, only to fly back to Melbourne the next morning and attend the same gig in my hometown. I was punk rocking for 48 hours that weekend, all at my employer’s expense I may add. Or the time I spent 5 consecutive nights following the U.K. Subs on their first Australian tour, followed by a further 3 nights writing up my notes for a gig review on the band website. It was like I was a guest in my own home that week!
Professionally and socially, they say first impressions are lasting ones, and tonight I had the visual advantage of knowing what Paul and Monica looked like from Internet music clips. Personally, I don’t hold any fears about meeting people for the first time. It’s a professional requirement, so I engage in conversation the moment they walk into the hotel. Before long the conversation flows, and we migrate between discussions on Melbourne and Sydney, this tour, the crowd response, Paul’s impressions of Melbourne, why Melbourne is the music capital of Australia (and it is, honest) and Monica’s perception of this tour versus her previous one, where she toured as a solo act. Now she is a solo act with Paul. Make sense?
And what of first impressions? Well Paul was shorter than he appeared in the music clips, and his eyes were bright and friendly. Almost inviting, the type that draw you in and hold your stare while in conversation (quite an unusual comment to make, for a bloke, I may add!) Monica is petite and sun-tanned, with blond wavy hair and a visual appearance well suited to any Australian beach location you care to mention. Both are healthy looking and well groomed, and sport recently acquired suntans. Plus their clothes fit in a manner mine never do. They sit perfectly, while mine tend to suffer from the ‘bags and sags’ (what’s that number for liposuction?)
I also see the benefits of travelling light, as Monica and Paul carry just two guitar cases and a small backpack between them. There’s no road or stage crew, no manager, no mixer, no lighting operator, no drums, no amps, no PA. Alas, no rider either. As an instrument, Monica’s acoustic guitar is among the largest I have ever seen. I thought it might have looked physically larger because Monica was petite, but upon closer inspection it was truly a large guitar, and a key factor in the sound that Monica generates when playing. At times the sound was full, and not the usual ‘jingle jangle’ one expects to hear from an acoustic guitar. Proving that size does matter, in this instance!
Tuesday night is the Brunswick Hotel’s ‘Brunswick Discovery’ session, where people can book to play 1 or 2 songs, as a guide. There are quite a few people performing this evening, each playing electric guitar. One chap sounds like Eddie Vedder, and the next like Bob Dylan. The third strums the same chord for 4 minutes, while singing. Personally, I thought someone had glued his fingers to the fret board. Perhaps next week he’ll have learned a second chord? The fourth introduces 2 songs about his school experiences. The fifth, a lady, sings so softly I can’t make out any words, giving the impression that she wasn’t singing in the first place, only mumbling to the music. The sixth chap sings a song about god, and the seventh I miss due to a conversation with Paul. I then entertain the thought about jumping on stage myself, to sing a few songs about my high school experiences. Potential songs include English high school classics like ‘What You Staring At, C**t’, ‘Tell Us About Your Sex Life, Mr Glanz’, ‘Glue Sniffer’ and ‘That’s Bleeding Typical Marc Brekau’, an ode to Mrs Matheson, my English teacher, and her ability to make such an important subject less interesting than it should have been. But I digress.
Monica and The Explosion are last to perform, and the one afforded the longest set time. It takes around 5 minutes for Monica and Paul to open their guitar cases, take off their jackets, plug in, tune up, converse on the set list, catch the audiences attention, for Paul to don his trilby, for Monica to gesture with her hands toward the sound/light chap and for Monica to introduce both the act and first song. What is Paul’s fascination with the trilby hat?
Except for the odd Internet video, this is my first encounter with Monica and The Explosion, and a small, yet appreciative crowd welcomes them to the stage. “Hello, my name is Monica and The Explosion, and this here is Paul…" is the introduction and ‘Take It Or Leave Me‘, the first track from the album ‘Shut Up!’, the opening song. A melodic song with a catchy guitar riff helps to compensate for some bass ‘glitches’ that Paul endures early in the piece. The ‘glitch’ is addressed during the break as Monica thanks the other artists who appeared this evening, before counting in ‘More Out Of Life‘, a song accompanied by loud crowd claps, and one played at a frantic pace. As a musician and performer, Monica’s stage persona is vibrant and energetic, and I now understand the comment that Paul made earlier, about ‘Monica really giving her all to every performance.’
There’s no break to entertain the audience applause as they launch into ‘Shut Up’, with its catchy opening riff, and it is here I note the different physical styles employed by both performers. Monica is more animated in her performance, at times ‘bopping’ along as she juggles playing an enormous acoustic guitar with singing and moving. Visually, I feel she draws a parallel to Billy Bragg, and the stripped down musical approach he employed in this early career. Melodic chords, heavy and fast strumming, story line lyrics and a physical intensity and presence that gets you noticed by the audience. But then, at times, her stage energy and body movements remind me of the late, legendary Joe Strummer, and the way he – especially his legs – would frantically move in sync to the chords played. Monica has the same performance demeanour tonight. Paradoxically, Paul was quite specific and methodical in movement, with his body and legs aligned to the notes he played on the bass, and perhaps the speed at which they were played. If you watch their performances on YouTube, or their website, especially one that affords a full body view of both musicians, you’ll see what I mean.
Monica then informs the crowd that ‘Shut Up’ is about Swedish radio music, the kind you “just want to shut up.” Next up is a song about summer, called ‘The Best Song’, with a sound that reminds me of another song I’ve heard recently, but can’t quite recall at the time of writing. I had offered to videotape tonight’s performance, as a tour reminder for Monica and Paul, and positioned myself beside an entry door to get a clear view of the stage. I also locked the door to avoid interruptions while taping. However, every now and then, a disgruntled punter attempts to open it, or peer in to see me shaking my head, to indicate it was shut. While on stage, as they perform, trams randomly pass by, affording an unusual backdrop for a gig, yet one quintessentially Melbourne to behold.
‘I Know Everything Is Gonna Be Alright’ is next, and as I peer through the camcorder I find a happy drunk jumping up and down to what I thought was the song, but is merely his own reflection in the tiles across the wall. Then more faces peer through the closed door as Monica launches into a song I don’t recognise, and one that demonstrates both her physical and musical abilities. She is clearly a super-fit musician; showing toned arms and the stamina to support her frantic guitar style for long periods, all while holding an enormous acoustic guitar. ‘I Wanna Be Your Doll’ is enthusiastically greeted by the aforementioned drunken local, who again amuses himself by staring at his own reflection in the tiled wall, before disappearing, much to my delight. Alas, I can’t name the next song either, which is accompanied by some nice bass runs from Paul mid way through the song. Then its ‘I Don’t Care If It’s A Sunday Night’, to which a vocal female shouts back “but it’s a Tuesday night”. Charming, but what do you expect from a local Melbourne crowd, other than the bleeding obvious! This song meanders to a close with an acoustic finish before Monica strums the opening chords to another song I can’t place (alas folks, its hard to be exact, as the song didn’t appear on the ‘Shut Up!’ album, or the music files on Monica’s website. Sorry Monica and Paul!)
Below: Pictures from the Monica and The Explosion 2011 Australian tour.
With thanks to Min Stokes. Cheers Min! Click images to enlarge.
‘Friday Night’, from Monica’s debut release is a personal favourite (you can also play it via her website), and it’s nice to hear tonight. Alas, half way through the performance that damned drunken chap returns and spoils the view, before his legs give way to a seat and he falls to the ground (which I didn’t push his way, I may add). ‘I Wanna Go Home’ concludes the set, and ends Monica and The Explosion’s third Melbourne gig of the tour. It takes a matter of minutes for them to pack their guitars and exit the stage. I had read the term ‘punk’ assigned by reviewers and fans, when describing the sound of Monica and The Explosion. Given the breadth of sound covered within the genre, its logical to consider this a punk sound, even though at times its more acoustic and melodic than most of the genres you associate with punk. But that’s also the key ethos of punk today. You don’t have to sound punk, or appear punk, to be punk. A case in point being Monica and the Explosion.
Post-gig and the three of us relocate to the vast bistro surrounds of Zagame’s in Brunswick Road, 2 kilometres down from the Empress, to conduct this interview. I had planned to discuss and explore Paul’s experiences with the U.K. Subs – early day’s versus reunion tour - and then focus on his involvement with Monica and The Explosion, and finally discuss Monica’s musical journey to date. However, after Paul admitted his memories from those early Subs days had all but faded, and with fatigue starting to show across our collective faces, the conversation meandered through a series of related, yet unstructured, questions. This was unintentional, but with the interview agenda all but dismissed, I sought to paint a picture of what life was like for them as musicians on the road, and as partners that played in the same act.
So I asked Paul if he joined the Subs simply because the opportunity was there, like so many others who were influenced and inspired by the burgeoning punk movement to ‘become involved’. “That’s pretty correct. I suppose it all happened so quickly for me. I came straight out of art school into this music scene. At the time I was living at home, so I went from living at home to living in my own place and being on the road within a year. It was a big upheaval personally, especially as the Subs’ success grew so quickly. The Subs had a management company, so some things were managed better than if you were a new band starting out fresh. But even so, the early days were still a shock to the system. But when you are young, you can easily deal with it.”
“We were four young guys who were still getting to know one other personally and musically, all while the band pushed forward professionally. Nicky and Charlie had the advantage of knowing one another before I joined. But I think they had such diverse backgrounds that at the time of my joining the band, they were still working out their relationship musically. So my joining the Subs simply added another layer of personal and professional complexity to the band.”
As a fan, Paul’s description of his transition, from art student to successful musician, sounded far too simple. I was convinced it was more significant that Paul made it out to be. After all, within the space of 3 years he had involved himself with the punk movement and relinquished his art career aspirations (an interim move). He’d met Charlie and Nicky and agreed to join the band, without actually playing a musical instrument. He learnt the bass guitar over a 3-day period and made his live stage and band debut on the third day. The young Slack had moved from the comfortable and warm surrounds of a family home into an environment of organised and disorganised band management, he adopted and sustained an almost ‘gypsy like’ existence, meandering between playing live and touring (across the UK, Europe and the USA), recording and rehearsing music, travelling en masse via an assortment of vans, cars, buses and sleeping in all kinds (and states) of accommodation. And all this whilst living in the media and public spotlight in what was, at the time, a band undergoing significant growth in terms of music sales, crowd support and media exposure.
That’s quite a transformation for any individual to make you would imagine, especially one from a non-musical background. Then there’s the musical legacy. Paul played on the band’s three John Peel Sessions, the first of which marked his recording debut with the band alongside Pete Davies. He played on ‘C.I.D.’, their debut single, and every 7” single thereafter to ‘Teenage’. Paul also played on the first 3 albums and most of the TV appearances they made, including several on the BBCs prestigious Top of the Pops show, to support their singles. Fabulous statistics to have on one’s musical CV, I would have thought.
However, as Paul notes, “it happened all so quickly that, upon reflection, I probably didn’t have time to think about the changes it had on my life. We might have been recording and playing bigger venues, but as a band we were still getting to know one another. It’s hard to recall it all now, some 30 years later, because at the time it happened so fast. I was also wasted for much of the time, and without recording any diary or notes, and with my memory fading with time, it’s difficult to be exact about how I felt, or dealt with that period of my life.”
“We were all different individuals away from the band back then, and we still are today. Charlie and I used to enjoy a drink. Pete liked to smoke a lot of dope and Nicky liked science fiction books and an early night, and neither smoked nor drank. We were never into anything excessive, although I can’t remember much about the time in this regard. But together, as a band, we simply worked hard.”
“The thing about the Subs, at the time, was that we’d never turn down a gig. We’d always play when we were asked, and that meant many gigs, and the practice that comes with playing. We developed better as a band, than other bands at the time, simply by gigging. We rehearsed hard. We played hard and really went for it as a band. That’s one of the key reasons why were so successful at the time as a live act.”
I view Paul’s comments as a key factor behind the band’s early success, and their ability to sustain themselves to this day. I view the Subs’ approach to performing as akin to the R’N’B and soul ethos that was evident in the 1950s and 1960s, in America. Artists would rely on extensive touring to promote their sound and music, to attract and build a fan base, to find record deals and promote their records, to improve their musicianship and build their brand and network. And for many, this was the only way to earn an income and survive financially.
Interestingly, life was not always rosy for the Subs in the early days, no matter how I may have made it sound. Consider this comment on an early tour (again from Alex Ogg’s band biography), ‘their first national tour came as a support to the ‘Farewell To The Roxy’ album, an ill-fated Scottish haul alongside Blitz, Acme Sewage Co and the Jets. Funding was non-existent and the group subsisted by undertaking washing up duties. They were forced to hire a car, on Nicky Garratt’s girlfriend’s credit card, in order to get back to London.’ Charming!
Paul elaborates on the R’N’B comparison I make. “I don’t think we ever turned down a gig at the time. We wanted to play, and at times it was really tough. There were long drives, van breakdowns, small venues, varying crowd sizes, often with no pay. It was hard at times, almost eating hand to mouth. But that’s what we had to do, as a band. Nothing ever gets delivered on a plate, and it’s a very basic philosophy that a lot of bands today don’t seem to understand. You have to put in the hard yards when you are starting out.”
“Gigging was something that really made the band stand apart from other bands of the time. We would always gig, and if we were offered a show we’d accept. We really went for it, and would often spend 60 to 70% of the time on the road touring. When you factor in time for writing, rehearsals, recording, promotional work and travelling around the country, you end up with little time for anything else. The band replaces your family, and the band lifestyle replaces the one you previously enjoyed. Add in the excesses of life, as a touring band, and it’s easy to see how weeks blend into months into years, and before you know it the years have passed and you end up seeking a new direction. Or, at least, that’s what I did.”
Paul’s final contribution to the band was recording ‘Crash Course’, released on 12/9/1980 with a PR release promoting the album as the ‘Greatest Live Punk Album Ever!!” (and arguably the only one in the world the time, ‘Live at the Roxy’ and bootlegs aside). The album gained a 5 star rating from both Melody Maker and Sounds, and reached No 8 in the album charts, the highest chart spot achieved by the band.
Concurrently, the band also benefited from the ‘Punk Can Take It’ short film, directed by Julian Temple and shot at the Lyceum. At a time when punk media coverage was largely restricted to BBC TV film clips (live, mimed and recorded), and the odd ITV documentary spot, and with few film clips recorded at the time, the film was a significant showcase and media achievement. So both the album and film showcased the band’s reputation and ability as a fast, tight and prolific live act.
Then in 1980, at the height of the Subs’ success, Paul ‘ups’ and leaves the band, alongside Pete Davies. I asked Paul about this period of his life. “Well, the last thing I recorded was ‘Crash Course’. It was then that I made up my mind about leaving the band. I have written about this previously (via his blog), mainly because people have asked me about it. To me, the concept of extending the band, beyond what we had achieved, went against the basic punk philosophy at the time. The idea of a punk band and hanging around forever - and it seems ironic today to say this now - seemed to go directly against the philosophy we were dealing with. Punk bands were springing up left, right and centre at the time, and the philosophy was to play, or record, or do both, but with a view that nothing would last forever. The Subs seemed to be going against this, and I felt that was against, certainly in my own mind, what punk was all about.”
“At the time, most punk bands never held the view that they would last beyond a gig, or a month, or a year, or a single, or an album. It was quite a simple philosophy. The Subs seemed to outlast that attitude. We did a single, then another. We did an album, then another. We did a tour, then another. Then radio, TV, and then more of the same. It’s strange to say this today, but as I said before, the idea of longevity seemed a direct opposite to what we stood for at the time.”
“Sure, there were other pressures to deal with at the time. As a band we were not getting along together well. But it wasn’t that bad that we couldn’t deal with the issues at the time. Ultimately, all these factors influence you in some way or another. But for me, it really was a simple musical decision. I felt we (the band) had to move on, but the band felt otherwise. At the back of my mind, I felt we had reached our full potential at the time. Unless we changed (musically), I could not see us progressing beyond the sound we had developed.”
“I wanted us to move into another musical area. But in a band, you are only one opinion, and there were definitely musical differences in this regard. I wasn’t really the principle songwriter in the band. Nicky and Charlie seemed better at taking care of the writing side. I think they had written all their best songs in the first few years, and their musical direction (after ‘Crash Course’) was different to the one I wanted to take. Plus I wanted to do something different musically anyway, so the decision to leave was easy to make.”
Paul’s departure was documented both at the time and subsequently through various formats.
In his history of the U.K. Subs (from the New Red Archives website), Nicky said “it was clear that Charlie and I were in one mindset, while Pete and Paul were in another... The main problem was while Charlie and I were mostly concentrating on the songs, recordings and general well being of the band, Pete and Paul seemed to be there for the ride. There wasn’t anything specific, but I think they were bored or tired of the constant touring. Nevertheless, Charlie and I decided during the tour that we were going to change rhythm section.”
Alex Ogg affords another perspective, ‘a 21-date full UK tour to promote ‘Brand New Age’ culminated in a May 30th show at the Rainbow, but inter-band tensions had begun to surface. According to Harper’s comments at the time, Slack and Davies had become a little star-struck with the group’s new found popularity. It ended in a fistfight one night after a Dutch TV show, and the two factions parted company after their management’s attempts at mediation failed. Slack briefly formed the reggae-influenced Allies to pursue a direction he’d forlornly attempted to push on the Subs.
“I think the pressure within the band was quite high at that time,” Garratt told Ian Glasper. “Pete and Paul seemed to be unhappy, and as I recall, complained quite a lot. We were doing an awful lot of shows. Charlie and I felt the Subs were our baby, I suppose. We were working on stuff all the time and a natural crack formed between us.”
Irrespective of his reason, Paul’s departure moved him back into the world of art and a new business venture, plus the start of a family and all the challenges that families bring. Having explored Paul’s early recollections of the Subs, I turned the conversation towards Monica and The Explosion. I began by asking about the name, and why Monica had chosen it for what is, essentially, a solo concern. “I wanted to make people notice my performance, and see me as something more than a solo act. You make more impact, and get more attention, if you appear more than you are. That’s why I chose the name. It has more of an impact when it’s promoted.”
Did she ever envisage having more than one person in her band? “I started out on my own, and then I recorded the first album with two guys as my backing band. This was in Sweden, and thereafter we started to get shows and gig around, but the musicians I had in my band weren’t really prepared to put in the time for touring. They were more local musicians, only wanting to do local shows, and I wanted to move on. So I made the decision to return to doing solo shows. When it came to recording the next album ‘Shut Up!'; I wanted to play with a bass player and a drummer. So I had Paul and Rob play. When it comes to recording, I like to have more instruments. It gives you a bigger sound.”
Today you are touring as a 2 piece, without a drummer. Why not continue as a trio? “I think we had been playing a few shows as a 2 piece. When you put drums on the stage, it’s harder for me to get the same contact with the people in the audience. Sometimes it’s like I am competing for their attention, against the drums. But when I play solo, or with Paul, the response and rapport with the audience is different. I still enjoy playing with a drummer, from time to time, but today it’s better to play with only guitars.”
Did Paul’s involvement change her perception of Monica and The Explosion? By definition, Monica and The Explosion are now a duo, and with the addition of a drummer, a 3 piece band or trio. The answer was a definitive no. Although Monica considers Paul an essential part of Monica and The Explosion, his involvement did not change her musical focus. From her perspective, it's important to retain her identity as "Monica and The Explosion", allowing her an opportunity to perform or record solo, if ever she felt the need. It’s an approach that provides her with flexibility, without necessarily "intention", where performing is concerned. A fact evident when she announced herself this evening as “Hello, My name is Monica and The Explosion, and this is Paul…”
I then posed a similar question to Paul. As a member of Monica and The Explosion, and given Monica is Monica, I asked if he considered himself to be ‘The Explosion’? Naturally, he didn’t, so I then asked if he saw other opportunities to use the name, outside of music. For example, Paul could adopt the name and enter the ‘squared circle’ as a wrestler with TNA or WWE. Matches like The Undertaker Vs The Explosion, or Sting Vs The Explosion, afford new career opportunities should he desire a sporting one. He had a chuckle about that, and added, “with my height and age, I probably wouldn’t last long in the ring, even if I tried. Best to stick with music!”
Monica and The Explosion combine acoustic guitar with electric bass guitar, so I asked Monica if she had considered performing and recording with an electric guitar. Her reply was honest, and surprising. “I am rubbish at the electric guitar. I can’t play electric guitar, so I play the acoustic one.” I then enquired why Paul didn’t use an acoustic bass guitar, when performing or recording. His response was parallel with Monica’s. “It’s not something I have much experience with live, and I don’t think it would suit the sound we have. Even with the Flying Padovanis I play electric bass, so a move away from electric bass wouldn’t suit me.”
We then discussed the tour, arranged at short notice and pulled together with the assistance of Monica’s contacts, friends and family. They funded the tour themselves, and would often play for free – and at short notice – to build their brand name and promote their sound and album to an audience. I suggested the tour seemed more like a working holiday than a tour, but Paul assured me that it definitely was a tour. One that continues to build upon the two previous tours Monica had undertaken down under, and explores new opportunities for their next tour, likely to the same time next year. I sensed that, financial fortunes and crowd support allowing - Australia could easily become a regular summer destination for Monica and The Explosion.
Most people know that Paul and Monica enjoy a professional and personal relationship today, living and working together for long periods of time (the Australian tour, as one example, lasts 6 weeks). Individual work and music commitments aside, they were travelling as a couple, performing as a couple, and working on building Monica and The Explosion up further, as a couple. Often 24/7.
What challenge does this present when you are still developing your musical and personal relationship? “I don’t think we’ve been asked this question before, so I don’t have a specific answer. From my perspective, and for the moment, there’s no other road to take. We are together as a band and couple. We started off, primarily, as a band, and things developed from there.”
Paul asks Monica to comment, but she simply shrugs and smiles, so he adds “I suspect it could do, but as yet we have not encountered any issues. Who can tell about the future? We hit it off musically, from the start; it’s fair to say. I think I understood what was required to become the bass player in Monica’s band, and the musical connection worked well from day one.”
“Having said this, we do make a point of working separate lives away from music. And we make a point of ensuring we are happy musically, especially as it’s a 24/7 concern for us both. Away from music, Monica teaches in Sweden, and I run a (picture) framing business back in England. I also play with other musicians. This allows us time to recharge the batteries, and provides us with a break from one another.”
Monica added that “I still do solo shows, without Paul, but I also enjoying playing with Paul (Monica performs solo as part of the song writing seminars she delivers to students in Sweden). I am still writing my songs, and I’ll ask Paul for ideas musically, but they are still my songs.” A point also endorsed by Paul. “I am not looking to move into Monica’s song writing space. As I said previously, I am not a songwriter. I am a bass player, and I’m happy to support Monica, as the song writer, by playing bass.”
Reflecting back to the Subs for a minute, do you feel an extended break away from the band might have prolonged your association with them? “Possibly, but in addition to what I’ve said, I was never the principle songwriter, and you could see where their musical direction was heading, So even if we’d had a break, I feel I still would have left the band.”
With regards Monica’s approach to songwriting, and with English being her second language, I asked if she wrote first in Swedish, and then translated her songs into English? “No. I write in English. It’s easier for me to write songs in English. I don’t write songs in Swedish. For me, songwriting is not just about the lyrics. It’s about an ability to sing what you have written. Unlike poetry, you can take the lyrics in new directions. It would be harder for me to write in Swedish, than in English. For a long time, most of the songs I listened to have been in English, so, for me, it’s easier to write this way.”
Did Monica ever tire of the UK Subs connection, especially with Paul now playing full time? “I don’t think about it. I still think it’s interesting, and I like the band. I don’t have any favourite song, but I like their music. It’s not a problem for me to be associated with them, through Paul. Actually, I think it has opened more doors for me, as a performer. I know we’ve had a lot of Subs fans support me through the association. They are new fans, and buy my CDs and listen to us when we perform. So I think it’s been good for me so far.”
Paul adds, “Musically it’s tough out there, to get peoples attention. So I have used the Subs association to get Monica and The Explosion to a new audience, or a larger one. But I feel the need has died away now, as Monica gets more recognition as a performer and recording artist now. When I first joined it helped us, don’t get me wrong. But we’ve been working hard since the album was released, and to some degree we’ve moved away from the association with the Subs. It’s been some 10 months now since ‘Shut Up!’ was released and we are still going strong.”
On the subject of the latest album, did Monica experience any creative pressures to write songs that were different from those she recorded on her debut release? “No not really. The more you write the more practice you get. The pressure is all on you, as a writer. I don’t have any label pressures, or financial pressures. The pressures I have are my own, and most of the time, it’s all in my mind. It’s not something or someone telling me to do something different or better. No one is telling me to write songs in a certain style or way. I am still developing as a songwriter, and we are both working hard on our performances. I think the songs I am writing now will show improvement as a songwriter.”
I then asked Paul the same question about Brand New Age. I have read some reviews, of ‘Brand New Age’, where the writers have said ‘typical rushed second album.’ Or the writers said the material wasn’t as catchy, or memorable, as that on ‘Another Kind of Blues’? “I don’t agree. I think there is some good material on that album, and some of the songs, from that album are still played today. They are quite enduring. Regarding Monica, I think she is still developing as a writer and I’ve no doubt that her next album will be a great one. Monica won’t put out any material that she’s not entirely happy with.”
“Remember, we made the ‘Shut Up’ album the best we could. We had no significant label support, and no pressures to deliver anything beyond what we were capable of delivering. As a result, the album has a freshness about it, and a sound that we can deliver live. It’s not manufactured or over engineered. And unlike the Subs, or any other band recording a follow up album, Monica didn’t have any pressures on her when it was recorded. It was recorded to suit Monica. Not some record label or deadline for release, or some label’s desire to better the first effort.”
Does Monica want to expand beyond a 3-piece when recording? “I can’t say. At the moment drums, bass and guitar suit the songs I write. But as a singer and songwriter, I might try other instruments in the future. But I can’t say now and today.”
Given the Subs reunion tour, how did Paul feel about playing the old songs some 30 years later? “I enjoy playing them, and they still sound good today as they did back in the day. I do have favourite songs, and I like the very early ones… ‘I Couldn’t Be You’, ‘I Live In A Car’, ‘C.I.D.’.
I like to play them all, but the early ones are among my favourites. Even the songs I was involved in writing hold an appeal, like ‘Warhead’. I can even add ‘Emotional Blackmail’ to that list. It’s a big thrill for me to play ‘Warhead’ after almost 31 years. It’s a great feeling to play them again, especially when I never saw myself as playing them again as a musician.”
Conversely, were there any songs that Paul didn’t like playing? “Not really. The songs I played on were all short and fast, so they still hold that appeal when playing today. They are all good songs to play live.”
Paul’s solo vocal contribution to the Subs was the fabulous ‘She’s Not There’ cover (in my opinion, a song second only to the fantastic Dickies cover of ‘Nights In White Satin’). I asked if he held any desires to sing again. “I know it’s hard to believe (singing better than Charlie). But I wasn’t a singer and I’m still not a singer. It was just that we were in the studio, and Charlie was having difficulty singing it, especially getting the pitch and phrasing right. Everyone was joining in, trying to help Charlie out, when it was decided, collectively, that I was making the best ‘fist’ of it. And I still shudder every time I hear it.”
But you also performed (nee mimed) it on ‘Top of the Pops’. That must have been a thrill? “We’d done a few ‘Top of the Pops’ shows by then. Thank god I mimed to it, rather than singing it live. It was good fun, from what I recall, but singing is not my bag. Best to leave it to people who have better voices, like Charlie and Monica.”
Paul, you mentioned that for you, philosophically, punk was never about the long term. How do you view these comments in light of your experiences with the reunion tour? “The one thing that I have been aware off, since that tour, is the legacy of the band. Sure, they went through the doldrums for a high period of time, and it’s really Charlie that kept the band alive. He truly loves what he does, and he never lost sight of the band and their importance to the scene. On the tour I met people who said the Subs were an enormous part of their lives, and I am more aware of their contribution to the music scene now, than ever before. We might not have been the best musical band in the world, but the band is loved and in particular, Charlie. We go to Rebellion every year and the respect and love that is shown toward Charlie is amazing. It’s fully deserved as well.”
Your decision to participate in the reunion tour seemed more personal than professional, given your business and family life away from music. Was this the case? “It was mainly nostalgia. And it’s an interesting story about how I came back onto music, first with Henry, then Monica and Charlie. He knew I was playing again, and once he got back in touch he knew I wouldn’t say no to the reunion. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Charlie, I love him and he‘s a great guy.”
“On a personal level, it was about whether I could still do it (be a musician), be it the Flying Padovanis or the Subs. From then though, I have moved into new areas, and funny enough, today I am more than happy being a musician. Musically I am happier than I have ever been. Despite all I achieved with the Subs, I am more proud of playing on Monica’s album than anything I have played on previously. It’s relatively unknown and underrated at the moment, but I am very proud of my involvement.”
Did the idea of ‘punk being nostalgic’ change your view of the genre? “Yes, and it kind of contradicts what I said earlier about the philosophy of punk, and it lasting longer than it did. The 30 year anniversary, and the national wave of nostalgia that followed, certainly made the experience special. We were riding the wave of nostalgia, and it was good to live that, and relive being part of that scene. But I never viewed it as a long-term direction. I have always wanted to challenge myself, and so doing more of the same with the Subs wasn’t something long term.”
“What I do feel is that Charlie, and the band, are finally getting the recognition they deserve. They are highly underrated, yet they have a legacy that extends beyond most bands of the day. Even though they are more a collective with one constant, being Charlie. I can’t imagine how many people have played with the Subs over the years. But here they are 30 odd years later, still playing with the original singer, and in some cases, still packing in the crowds.”
“There is some talk about the original four playing at Rebellion in August, although I haven’t heard anything specific for a couple of months. For me, it’s more a ‘if I have the time’ kind of offer. Monica and The Explosion are my full time musical concern. We are extremely busy. We are supporting the Subs in Ireland this year, but I won’t play for the Subs and Monica and The Explosion. I don’t want to dilute the fact that I am the bass player for Monica and The Explosion. Personally, I am happy being in the support band to them.”
Have you recorded any new material between the two of you? “No. We plan to release a couple of songs as a 2-piece, just to see how it works. But beyond that we’ve no firm plans. Monica is still developing and growing, and as long as Monica continues to write and perform, we’ll develop.”
The evening ends with tired faces, warm handshakes and the drive back home while listening to ‘Shut Up!’ It’s been an enjoyable evening, and an interesting musical journey through the eyes and experiences of Paul and Monica. I hope you enjoyed reading their views, as much as I enjoyed writing them for you.
Marc Brekau, Melbourne, February 2011.
Above: Marc, pictured on a trip to Jordan - click image to enlarge
- Below: Fabulous performance of 'Friday Night' at Melbourne's Brunswick Hotel, before a warm and friendly crowd, February, 2011. Play it loud...
- Below: Another terrific track, 'The Best Song', performed before an appreciative crowd at the Brunswick Hotel, Melbourne in February, 2011. Play it loud...
Cheers to Marc for all his work on this project, from the T&M web-eds