Ever since I first heard Crass I try to incorporate them into anything I write, even if it's just a name drop. I'm serious about this; just do a search on the internet, and you'll find that I even incorporated their name in a piece I wrote involving Katy Perry. They're that great.
For those of you who are new to the name, Crass were one of the many anarcho-punk bands springing up in the UK in the eighties, and probably the most important one. They were truly a political machine who meticulously thought out every action in their relatively short-lived life together as a band. So, when I was granted an interview with Penny Rimbaud (drums), I felt truly honored.
When I actually spoke to him, Penny sounded like a calm, friendly, articulate, and very forward thinking individual, which made learning of the impending doom facing Dial House (the farm/commune the band lived in, and where Penny still lives) and the Crass catalog a little harder to deal with. What follows is the transcript of the chat I had with Penny last Sunday.
Ever since I first heard Crass I try to incorporate them into anything I write, even if itâs just a name drop. Iâm serious about this; just do a search on the internet, and youâll find that I even incorporated their name in a piece I wrote involving Katy Perry. Theyâre that great.
For those of you who are new to the name, Crass (not the Crass, as many people refer to them) were one of the many anarcho-punk bands springing up in the UK in the eighties, and probably the most important one. They were truly a political machine who meticulously thought out every action in their relatively short-lived life together as a band. So, when I was granted an interview with Penny Rimbaud (drums), I felt truly honored.
When I actually spoke to him, Penny sounded like a calm, friendly, articulate, and very forward thinking individual, which made learning of the impending doom facing Dial House (the farm/commune the band lived in, and where Penny still lives) and the Crass catalog a little harder to deal with. What follows is the transcript of the chat I had with Penny last Sunday.
Penny Rimbaud is one of the founders of Crass. He currently lives in Essex, England, and among his many projects now is his contribution with Japanther on their release Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt last year.
Interview by: Ollie Mikse. Photos by Eric of Dogseat (www.dogseat.org) and the Southern Records website (www.southern.com)
Penny, this is Ollie.
Nice to meet you.
Yeah, sort of.
How are things?
How are things? Itâs about to storm. Itâs a warm midsummerâs day. Iâve been gardening all day and itâs about to storm. We havenât had any rain for three months, really. So, thatâs where we are.
Letâs get started. How involved are you still with anything Crass related. Do you oversee anything that gets put out and are you consulted in any way?
Yeah, thatâs very complex story; one thatâs become more complex over the last few months. Iâve spent the last year remastering all of the Crass material. Gee has spent the last year redesigning all the Crass material. It was stuff which we felt that we wanted to make an absolute statement; the old CDs were starting to look tired. I wanted to do something as in-your-face as the stuff appeared to be 30 years ago, and with modern mastering techniques of course thatâs possible, so more of the sound the band had, because we used to have to compress things so heavily in the days of vinyl, and that became the sound.
So, Iâve been working on that for a year, and I started about this time last year and just finished around March when one of the band members really objected to what I had done. In the past I had always been in the studio reworking stuff, realigning it, and Gee has always worked on the artwork and developed it without any question from anyone in the band. On this occasion itâs caused an absolute row, and that has actually led to, whether this is good news for you or bad news for you or worse, but basically probably the end of all Crass releases. Itâs led to a sort of acrimonious battle between members of Crass which seems unresolvable.
What kind of problems exactly?
Well, theyâre very very complex. Initially, people were saying no they didnât want anything changed, which is absurd because Iâve been changing it by degrees over the last 30 years. Whenever we had to do a rerelease or reconsideration, subtle changes would be made, and what - basically in the end after considerable debate and discussion - it sort of basically boils down to one of the members of the band feeling that the relationships within the band when the band existed werenât realistic, werenât real. I think itâs a profound misconception because my belief is that any group of people is going to have personal problems within the group. And, those are things that were attempted to resolve, and maybe they do resolve and maybe they donât resolve them, but either way what we represented as a band is what I still firmly believe in. Obviously Iâve advanced in my thinking since those days.
Fundamentally what Crass had to say was - and is - worthwhile. It has a value and represents some form of hope, and some alternative, especially for young people who are generally getting consensual media shite in their face all the time. And so, that seems to me to be the point. We did it successfully in the frame point of "This is what we wanted to say" and we did it honestly. And this particular member is insisting that we might have done that, but because our relationship is flawed - as I believe most relationships are - heâs not prepared to accept my remastering or the redesign, because in his view to do that is to open some form of Pandoraâs box. Meaning that if anything changes from how it was, then basically he feels he will have to fundamentally go publicly into the attack, which heâs welcome to do. Iâm completely unconcerned on that level. The horrible thing about it is that itâs also led to the demise of Southern Records. I donât know if thatâs news at all within the public world, but basically a Southern studio is having to close down.
I know that the US division is not functioning anymore.
That closed down at the beginning of this year. Now the British offices are closing down. Allison is hoping to keep some of the people sheâs worked most closely with like Iain MacKaye, us, Bluurg, the various band with which sheâs had personal relationship with. Sheâs hoping to start a much smaller company, to promote press, and help out bands, but it seems to me that in all probability Crass wonât be among them. Probably, youâve seen the last manufactured product of Crassâ.
I intend quite possibly to build together the remastered tracks and the artwork, and arrange some sort of free download for people so people can have the last year of my work and Crassâ work. What Gee and myself have thought to be a re-challenge, because this acrimony within the band - it meant that Allison wasnât really able to - all of these things should have been released by now, about a month ago. The whole six albums, remastered and redesigned, should have been released, and had they been then quite possibly Southern might had survived. To me itâs a tragedy.
John Loder who set up the studio in the first place - he was a very old friend of mine - we worked together for years before the whole punk thing came along; working in an avant-garde outfit. Now, that basically turned into Southern studios and Southern records, and a sort of achievement within the alternative DIY scene. Basically, thatâs the end of it, which I think is a fucking tragedy. Partly, because thereâs unresolved situations in the band. It seems awful that 30 years down the line something like this happens. So, thatâs the outline now.
You mentioned that youâve been making changes over the years. What kind of changes? Are we talking mixing differences?
No, never mixing differences. Mastering differences. In the sense, obviously mastering programs have gotten better and better, particularly over the last 5 or 6 years. You can almost remix, really. One of the things I was very pleased with was that I was able to pan out stuff more, and for the first time ever you can actually hear the guitars properly which is a massive achievement. Because the first mixes that I did, Iâll gladly acknowledge the fact that I think I undermixed the guitars. Well, you can actually hear them now. Itâs amazing, that youâre able to draw out all sorts of bits of sound which had been submerged. Even Steve [Ignorant]âs vocals are much clearer. Quite stunning differences.
Crass did all of their recording themselves. What obstacles presented themselves when you first started doing your recordings?
We did them with John. And now Iâve worked with John Loder for years and years before crass ever happened. In fact, we used to have this act that was an avant-garde noise band in the late â60s.
Was that Exit?
Yeah, for which John just had an old office recorder which is what we first used to record. And it sort of grew from that. As we used to tour quite a lot in the university circuit it was a highly radical band. More than Crass. Over the years we sort of gathered equipment together until we had got a small four track studio, initially. Then I lost touch with him for a couple of years after Exit folded, and started doing Crass with Steve. Then, I thought after 6 months of Steve and myself just fucking about at Dial House and making a lot of noise and having a bit of a laugh about it, I thought Iâd get in touch with John and see whether he had the recording facility still, which he did. Then, as that grew, as the band grew and it seemed like we were going to do something, he got an 8 track. He had a lot of skill. He was the sound engineer for Exit, and then he became the studio engineer for Crass, and Iâd learnt along the line as well. I think Exit were on the road for 2 or 3 years and we got used to playing around with the machines and building knobs basically.
It seemed like you guys were constantly recording and writing. How were albums released? Would the band buckle down and write a record, or would the stuff that had been recorded up to that point be collected as the next record?
Ahâ¦it sort of varied. It seems like I did most of the writing, progressively. I think Steve wrote quite a large amount of Feeding the 5000 that we put together to play our first gigs. Feeding the 5000 was actually almost exactly the set as we would play it in those days. After that, Stations came about because we thought we ought to make a second album, so people wrote bits and pieces, but it progressively got more centered into "Why are we doing it?" and "What are we trying to say?" Penis Envy came out as a feminist album and Yes Sir I Will which was a direct response to the Falkland wars. The words always came first. We didnât do a song unless we got words. I know some bands get a tune and stick words to it. We were reduced to working the other way around.
Crass have used the word Christ in a lot of their releases, like Christ The Album, Christ the Bootleg, Christ the Movie, and Christ Reality Asylum. Could you talk a bit about what the word Christ meant to the band?
I canât talk about what the word meant to the band, I can only talk what the word meant to me. "Christ Reality Asylum", which is the first single that we did, was taken from a book I had written before Crass was even thought of. It was a book called Christ Reality Asylum and the Pomme De Printemps, which is "apple of spring" in French. I wanted to put out a single which was really seminal. For me, a lot of what I wrote for Crass was sort of founded in that book before Crass; a lot of the subjects that Crass went to deal with, like patriarchy, and the state, and capitalism. It was all pretty much dealt with in "Christ Reality Asylum". For me, it was my punk teat that I sucked. "Reality Asylum" was written in the beginning of 1977 with copious amounts of wine. It was a complete sort of catharsis for me. That was why it was the first track on Feeding on the first release we ever made. I think a lot of my anger and political views were sort of stated in a sort of way in Reality Asylum. Thatâs why it stuck with it. I suppose that because I wrote a large majority of the material that Crass performed - I wrote like 60% of the songs - it was seen as a tendency for certain ideas to dominate, I suppose. And, thatâs as good an answer as any I can give to that.
There are a lot of Crass recordings and media in general that are still unavailable, like Thathergate, and flexis, and so on. Any plans of making this stuff available to people?
Apart from records?
Well, has everything Crass ever recorded been released?
No, one of the things I added to the remastering is that Iâve included all sorts of bits and pieces, outtakes, bits of dialogue, one or two tracks which never made it onto disc. One of the things I was trying to do in the remastering and repackaging was to get everything out that we had recorded that seemed to be worthwhile, like dialogues going on and bits of pieces of stuff that I found. Over the last year we listened to every single tape we made at Southern, which was a lot of work. So that stuff is stuff that got past the sort of net and is now on those remasters. If they get rereleased via the internet, then all that stuff will be on there.
What about footage of performances, or live recordings, or that documentary that was released on British television?
It wasnât released on British television it was Dutch television. I think you can find that on the internet.
Iâve only been able to find the first 9 minutes.
Oh yeah? Thatâs probably enoughâ¦
[Laughs on both side]
We wouldnât release that, because it wasnât our material to release in the first place. Anything that we have, or we own, we intended to make available. We wanted to set up an archive which would be part of this remastering, which would let people download at cost or free all of the live recording weâve got, of which there are bag loads of the bloody things. Most of them are roughly unlistenable, but nonetheless theyâre there. There is tons of stuff, and Iâve been plowing through it. Again, with the closure of Southern and possibly the closure of Crass I donât know what the fuck weâre going to do, whether or not maybe we might set up the archives. I really donât know at the moment. It seems a great shame that a lot of stuff hasnât gotten through. Weâll seeâ¦
Is any of this stuff going to include the footage that you guys would play during concerts?
Well, whatâs happened to that material is that Gee and myself have restarted a label called Exit Stencil. Itâs a label that has existed since the â60s. I mean, we would publish little booklets and pamphlets under Exit Stencil. We decided weâre going to restart that, and some of the releases like Acts of Love is going to be released on that, a very long reading I did of the book Christ Reality Asylum, some of the stuff Iâm doing now is going to be on that. So weâve got that facility, and thatâs something that weâre working on with Allison. Thatâs definitely going to happen. Anything which isnât Crass, we will be releasing through Exit Stencil.
Steve Ignorant has recently performed the Feeding of the 5000 without any contributions from the rest of band. What are your thoughts on this?
Initially I was very annoyed about it. I thought, "What the fuck is he doing that for?" I rang him up and we had a long chat about it. Initially, I was going to be heavy saying, "I donât like the idea, it sounds like a commercial gig, youâre not getting my blessing, and you canât use my songs." Then I thought, "Oh fucking hell, I donât mind anyone else using my songs, so why should I object to Steve doing something." I think itâs something he wanted to do. He wanted to make his own statement. Heâs particularly proud of that album. He did more writing for that album like any other. I didnât go; I think some of the other members did go. I didnât want to see it. I gave it my blessing in the sense that I said, "Have a good time, and I hope it works out." I understand that, in some respect, it must have been a disappointment to some people and I respect that. For me it was sort of a disappointment, but I know Steve well enough to know what whatever he does he really puts his heart and soul into it. I know he didnât make bins of money, if anyone thinks he was doing it for money. He probably paid his expenses. And I do believe that his intentions were honest. It wasnât something I would have done, or something I would support. Initially I was quite angry at the time, but then I thought, "Oh, fucking hell. Lay off, Penny."
Looking online, there are sites that are selling Crass merchandise like shirts, buttons, and stuff like that. Is this material authorized by the band in any way?
Do you guys get a check or any payment?
No. Steve does one particular set of t-shirts. The subject Iâm not interested in, and donât know much about. I know Steve does some, and I canât remember the company. Itâs an American company, actuallyâ¦
I think itâs Machete.
Yes. I think Steve has the deal on that. It certainly doesnât have the support of me or probably anyone else in the band. I donât know what anyone else thinks about it.
Did you guys ever have merchandise like that when you went on tour?
No, what we would do was to tell people to go and do their own, which is very easy. Just cut a stencil, get some car paint, and spray it. Sometimes what we would do was to hand out sheets that people could cut with a blade into a stencil. Usually it would be the same stuff that Eve and I would spray in the metro in London.
Does it concern you that this merchandising might be marketing Crass as another commodity?
Well, it does concern me. Of course it does, but then it doesnât concern me enough to do anything about it, because you canât do anything about it. Thereâs no way you can get to these people. It concerns me most when itâs someone like fucking Versace or DKNY or whatever. When those big fashion calendars rip us off then that fucking pisses me off something rotten. You canât get to them, theyâve got the biggest lawyers, the big money, and Iâm broke. How can I deal with it? I canât go to a lawyer. They know that, and they can screw us to the ground. I mean, fucking David Beckham wearing a Crass t-shirt. Great! One of the richest men in Britain wandering around with a fucking Crass t-shirt. I could kill the fucker [laughs].
In George Bergerâs book he does a good job of putting Crass in perspective of what they meant in their time. Now itâs been 25 years since Crass disbanded. In hindsight, how do you see the band and the role it played it its active period? What was its main purpose then and did the band achieve it?
Well, no, we didnât achieve global revolution. We didnât achieve what we would have loved to have seen. I think that we, on a mundane level, put a very big thorn on the side of the Thatcher government. We tested their patience and their nerve. On a deeper level than that, I think we inspired thousands of people across the world into reconsidering their stance in life. I think that we encouraged people to understand that they could make choices. And I think that that inspired all sorts of things. I think that our involvement in the sort of Stop the City riots in the early 80s in London, which were the first sort of youth riots as such that have ever occurred in this country, and that certainly inspired a whole generation of street activists. And anyone can still see the effect of that now in the global camp, and global warming camp, and anti-capitalist movements, etc.
So yeah, I think we created a lot of patents and a lot of voices in different areas from vegetarianism, and feminism, and a lot of it has been sucked in the mainstream which is good. At least it means people are looking at different options. Ultimately, I supposed we imagined we could inspire or inflame some sort of mass insurrection. I still wake up in the morning and want to inspire mass insurrection but nothing changes.
Another thing that George Berger did was he set up Adam and the Ants as a sort of antagonist to you guys. In your perspective was there any sort of rivalry between the two bands?
[Laughs] Absolutely not. I mean Steve used to take the piss out of Adam by putting an elastic plaster over his nose before a gig sometimes. But no, Adam is sort of a pop star, wasnât he? He was just another rock and roll hero, wasnât he? So no, there was no competition at all. He was a sort of a media puppet, basically.
Moving onto another topic: whatâs the current status of Dial House today and what are the daily activities at Dial House like?
Ah, well I got up at about 6:00 this morning and Iâve been working in the garden all day, sort of trimming hedges, cutting grass, and planting vegetables. Thatâs sort of an average day, if Iâm not working in my shed. I spend half of my time away from Dial House now. Iâve got a partner down in Wales who did live here until about 2 years ago, and then she moved, so I moved with her. But still, I spend half my time here.
At the moment weâre going through reassessment. Over the last six year weâve had a lot of internal disagreements, reconsiderations, reevaluations, and at the moment that process is still going on. It still operates, we still run workshops, and people still visit. Itâs absolutely unpredictable as to what one day will bring. You donât know whoâs going to be at the breakfast table, in your bed, or in the garden. Itâs worked as it always has. It was never an organized commune. I donât like the idea of organization. The whole idea of Dial House was that it was an unconditional situation. Iâve never imposed any sort of rules, I mean yes itâs a vegetarian household, but beyond that thereâs no principles or such. Iâve always believed that people have to sort out and root through their own life and through Dial House if thatâs part of their life. So itâs directionless, basically. Things happen just in the spur of the moment.
Whatâs the mains struggle in maintaining a place like Dial House these days?
Money. Thatâs a crap thing to have to say, but I mean we still owe a lot of money. So, we basically live in permanent debt. At least itâs to friends, but weâre not getting any younger, and at the moment weâre not getting any closer to paying that debt.
At the moment, itâs trying to figure out how it is we want it to continue. Itâs gone through many phases over its many years. Itâs existed as an open house for 40 years now, and has become quite empty and itâs because nothingâs happening. I mean, things are happening, but in the sense that itâs not something happening as a group situation like Crass or Exit or any other things weâve done here. Just as the whole Crass thing is up for grabs at the moment in terms of ideas, also Dial House is going through hard times reconsidering its role. Where we come in next, if you likeâ¦
Based on that, is it more difficult to run Dial House today than it was three decades ago?
Oh yeah. Thereâs no question. Increasingly. We fight values, economic climates, etc, but really, attitudes as well. Dial house existing in one of the most up and comingâ¦. When I moved here 40 years ago this was a backwater and its now becoming progressively money-oriented. The whole country side has been bought up by wealthy people wanting wealthy homes. Weâve been under fire for years, as you probably know, for years with people trying to get us out so they can make huge amounts of money on the house. The place looks like an anachronism. It doesnât look like anything else around it. Everything has big iron gates, lions on the fucking walls and security lights, and this place looks like it did 100 years ago. Increasingly it looks so ludicrously out of place and ludicrously out of time. It shouldnât be there [laughs].
I would think you guys have been doing it so long that it would get easier. It seems like itâs getting harder and harder.
Well, Iâm not any younger. One of the key points, in Crassâ time, I was 32 or something like that. And a lot of people at 32 probably havenât got anywhere to go or are still looking around. I think one of the problems now is that Gee and myself are both in our 60s now. Obviously itâs harder for very young kids to come here. What do they want to sit around with a couple of old fogs for? I know that sounds absurd. In attitude weâre not but in experience we are. I think thatâs part of the problem. Obviously most people our age are pretty settled by now and have sorted their lives out. My life is less sorted out now that itâs ever been in my life. I donât know where I live, Iâm absolutely broke, etc, etc. Which Iâm very happy about, I have to say. I feel more out on a limb than when I was 20. You think things are going to get easier and better as you get older, but they got harder and worse for me. Well, I like that. Well everythingâs falling apart, well thatâs great because Iâll have to learn. And I am learning, so itâs worthwhile, but itâs certainly not how I imagined it would be [laughs].
Letâs switch topics and talk a little about you. You collaborated with Japanther last year on their album Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt. It seems like such a strange fit. How did this come about?
I donât think itâs that strange. I met Ian and Matt about 5 or 6 years ago. I was doing a literary tour, reading or performing my poetry, and they were doing their punk tour, and for some reason we ended up in the same place one evening. I actually started talking with Ian and Matt before they started to perform and I just really liked their attitude. They were talking a lot about how it was they performed and both of them - particularly Ian - were talking about how they worked themselves in a form of trance to perform. He has to be completely in a sort of shamanistic place to be able to perform which is exactly how I do my poetry performance. Unless I can work myself into that sort of strange space then I actually find it very difficult to do any form of performance because I just feel, "Why am I standing here reading a fucking poem?" If I can work myself into a sort of magical shamanistic shape, then I can perform, because then I donât get in my way anymore.
Anyway, I really liked what Ian and Matt were talking about. They got up and do their set at this gig it was Minsk in Germany, and I thought, "Shit, Iâm going to go up and do some." So I got up there with them and did some of my rant poetry stuff. I donât think they even noticed I was there. It was pretty nice. We just sort of really liked each other and, so we said, "We must do something some time."
Then I was in New York about 3 years ago and I got in touch with them and I was doing stuff with the Bowery poets another 2 or 3 gigs. I said, "Why donât you boys come and weâll do some stuff together ," which we did. I had come over with a giant saxophonist and theyâd join with their drums and bass.
About two years back we did a one week opera in New York. That was really great; sold out every night with me doing poetry and them doing their thing., which is largely what the album is. The album is pretty much what we performed as an opera minus of course the dances and the sort of crazy dinosaur models and general madness of the club. It went for 6 nights so we did what we wanted. It was a multi media event which was fantastic. When we recorded the album, we went off and we did 3 or 4 gigs in Connecticut and the Bronx and they would just get up on stage and do it, which is great. There wasnât any show about it at all. Quite the opposite: just the three of us doing it. It was really good fun.
Have you heard the final product in its entirety?
What do you think of it?
I really like it.
Yeah itâs one of my favorite albums of last year. Itâs just so different!
Everything just fits so beautifully together.
Itâs a very very strange combination, but it works. I felt quite honored, actually, that a couple of really young guys wanted to work with me. I do this sort of poetry normally with jazz musician and, really, people find it very difficult. I was doing a regular monthly spot in the Vortex Club in London, which is one Britainâs leading modern jazz clubs, and people just couldnât make heads or tails of what the fuck I was on about. I mean the players really enjoyed it, but the audienceâ¦ I mean I never had punks in the audience. They really gave up on me a long time ago. But even jazzers couldnât work out what the fuck I was on about, so it was really great for me when I met up with them and we just sort of gelled together.
Yeah, I thought it worked really well. They did all the beats and stuff, and I did my poetry. I was really pleased with them. Iâm hoping weâll do some more stuff eventually some time.
Throughout the years youâve been in many bands, produced many albums, performed poetry, and written articles. Whatâs your main creative output these days?
Writing has been my main creative outlet most of my life. The things that I really like doing are writing, making love, gardening, climbing mountains, and I suppose that I do all of those things, and I donât put one as more important than another. Like you were saying earlier, that things seem to be getting harder rather than easier, well my thinking gets harder. I think itâs strange as I get older. Iâve gotten really interested in quantum physics recently like the whole idea of transferons and matter being no matter at all etc, etc, etc, and thatâs the sort of stuff I can just spend days and days sitting in the garden thinking about.
So, I mean I think for me creativity is not one thing. I hope that I live a creative life. Everything I do I hope is creative, whether itâs making bread, or making love, or making art, or making whatever. I aim to make it fulfilling and creative, because I think creativity is the only real gift you can make. I love cooking, for example. I donât think you can do anything more lovely for other people than make them a meal, and make them a beautiful meal. I love the idea of doing these carefully and beautifully. transferors Can you tell us about some projects that youâre working on now or plan to release?
Yeah, Iâve just finished putting together one of the recordings I did that I was mentioning at the Vortex. Itâs got Eve Libertine opening. Itâs a thing called In the Beginning, which is a long poetic work with four tenor sax players, bass, and drums, so a pretty unusual jazz outfit. The idea is that the creation of the word - itâs Eve inventing the language - inventing the word, and then the second half of the poem is me bemoaning. How is it that there are so many fuck awful words like torture, murder, rape? In a lovely world there wouldnât be all those horrible words because there wouldnât be those horrible things. I went through a dictionary and wrote down all those words that mean horrible things. Thereâs an awful lot of them. Thatâs one project.
Iâm remixing a recording I did three years ago of Eve performing one of Jack Kerouacâs poems with a jazz outfit. Iâm planning two other poetic releases, again with jazz players. Iâm looking on and thinking about working with classical soprana and that sort of stuff. And this will be with the Exit Stencil label ,which I mentioned earlier. Iâve already got the four albums ready to be released. Theyâll be released in the second half of this year. And then hopefully if this works, and if Allison doesnât go completely broke, then hopefully Exit Stencil is going to become the new outlet. Interestingly, Iâve also mastered a recording of Exit I did in 1972.
In the book The Trouble with Music, Mat Callahan talks in depth about music and what role in has in society and what it means, or should mean, to people. He makes a powerful statement that, were capitalism to be removed from music, that it would actually be advantageous for it, because all the music that there would be left would be one that is made out of pure enjoyment. What is your perspective on how music should circulate, and do you agree with Mat Callahanâs argument?
Well yeah. When someone tells me, "Iâm a professional writer," for example, then thatâs a way of telling me theyâre not actually a writer, theyâre a professional. Well I think itâs the same with musicians. If someone tells me, "Iâm a professional musician." I think, "What the fuck are they talking about?"
It seems to me that all arts, whether itâs writing, or music, or painting must come from a certain love and desire to express and the desire to share that expression in some way or other and certainly money is the very last consideration that should be made. So therefore I find it very upsetting when people talk about being professional because I donât understand why theyâre telling me that. So yeah, fundamentally, yeah I would agree with that statement. Why else do it? I mean, if you want money become a banker, well not these daysâ¦ Become a robber!
Radiohead did this thing a few years back where they let people pay what they wanted for their album, and they got some backlash because people say it undermines music to do that. Many bands are against this formula.
I think itâs a very beautiful formula. In doing any sort of the work, if thereâs costs, itâs nice to get the money back. To some extent, I justify the fact that we used to charge for our records. We couldnât afford to give them away so we sold them for as cheap as we possibly could. The whole picture has changed dramatically because of the internet. Itâs something I havenât engaged with or looked at seriously enough. I mean, I only got access to the internet myself about 6 months ago. Iâve always avoided sort of new technologies, but Iâm getting more interested. Sort of like the Crass archive was one of the ideas that we would put up on the download facility and see how much it would cost us to do it, and if people wanted to contribute towards that cost, they would do so, and we would be very grateful, but the idea was that people could decide themselves. Sadly, thereâs no way around if oneâs doing hard copies. For example the remasters were going to be packaged with a 100 page book with illustrations and typesetting, and in a small box, and that was going to cost a lot of money to do, and would cost a lot of money for us to market and cover our cost.
I think that the danger with the internet is knowing where stuff is coming from. I think itâs a brilliant idea. If things get sorted out with us and Southern, those are the sort of the things weâll look at.
Itâs surprising how many people are against it.
Well, for example, a lot of people criticized us back in the early 80s for selling records cheap, because they couldnât afford to do records so cheap, because they werenât selling so many. One of the reasons we were able to sell our records so cheap is that we were selling so many records that we actually could cover the cost to do that much more readily and quickly. So that put other people out of business. Thereâs always arguments. It would have been ridiculous for us to say, "Sorry, we shouldnât sell cheaply, weâll sell at regular price." If we sold at regular price weâd be fucking millionaires. And then weâd be criticized for being fucking millionaires or capitalist pigs! Thereâs no way around it.
People had made it through the internet to an audience using the same sort of principles as we do. As technology gets better and more easily useable than I think that other people are going to find better ways. In that sense, I like this new form of democracy which the internet gives, which I havenât been able to get until recently.
Winding down with some lighthearted questions, do you keep up with new music these days? What do you listen to?
I listen more to jazz than anything else. I listen to a lot of classical music. I donât listen to punk very often. It doesnât particularly interest me. I have been listening to Anthony and the Johnsons, the new one, and I think itâs brilliant. I like his poetry. I like his voice. I think itâs a very interesting album.
I actually find that the heart and soul of modern jazz to be closer to what punk used to be about than what punk is about nowadays. Thatâs why I work with modern jazz musicians, and thatâs who I listen to mostly.
Whatâs your favorite album that you put out Crass Records
Oh dear. I guess they all were.
Even that collection of demos?
Oh yeah, Bullshit! I think it was fabulous, because that was one of the things I wanted to be released. I loved them because that was what people were actually doing. It wasnât bands going to studios and pretending to be rock and roll bands. It was people in garages and sheds, and making noise and doing their own thing. I think theyâre fabulous - those albums - and Iâd love to do it again.
What Crass recording are you most proud of?
All of them.
Well, thatâs it, Penny. Itâs really been an honor.
Good, I enjoyed it.