Way out on the west side of Scotland's Isle of Skye, there's a remote village called Torrin. With its 65 residents, ageless mountains that jut out over the cold sea and stone walls that seem to crop out of nowhere, the rural community seems eerily reminiscent of the creepy settlement found in The Wicker Man. Oh… also… it has shafts dug into the earth that may have been used in pagan ceremonies 2,000 years ago.* But, while Torrin is a place of quiet clam, should you find yourself wandering along one of its dirt paths, you might hear a thick CLANG CLANG CLANG resound through the hills. Were you to follow the echoes to the source, you'd find Rob Miller hovering over an anvil, forging a sword in the traditional style as used by the ancient tribes. While Miller is one of the last few who hold onto this bygone art, he's also a father of an entirely different kind of art…
During the late 1970's, in the English countryside of Devon, Rob along with his brother Stig, formed the "Band with No Name", which eventually, after associating with Crass and sending mutilated pictures to a journalist who slagged them off, would form into the legendary amalgamation that is Amebix. Sort of a combination of the riffs of Black Sabbath, the growl of Motorhead, and the moroseness of Joy Division, Amebix created a unique sound that was almost as gothic as it was futuristic. One of the first bands to bring a metal heaviness to punk, Amebix tackled topics of class warfare, the effect of prescription drugs, and even meta-physics. Recently, after 20 years of inactivity, Amebix returned with a 2009 tour and 2010 EP release (Redux). To get the scoop on why Amebix rose from its ashes, Rob's opinion of the "crust punk tag", and the best sword for defending against a viking siege, Punknews interviewer John Gentile recently spoke to Rob Miller, Amebix's vocalist and bassist after the day's metal work was complete.
Amebix's original run played to crowd of varying sizes, with a usual show having about 50-200 people. But, when you played San Francisco and Philadelphia, the crowds were nearly ten times as large. Was this vindicating for you?
Yeah, it was really great to get a packed hall of people that were genuinely there to see the band. Back in the day, we were sometimes just an afterthought for the other bands on the bill or even Amebix wasn't that popular. You know, so we weren't drawing big crowds. San Francisco and Philly were really important shows for us. A big, more stadium, sort of stuff. But, still personal.
Did you have any hesitation about reforming and touring after 20 years of inactivity?
You know, there was never the intent to do that. We had stated quite clearly that a reunion just wasn't going to happen. Rather than a reunion, I called it a re-consideration. Things had come about that pushed us into this situation where this could happen. Initially, coming off the back of the making of the Amebix biography DVD with Roy Wallace, Roy Wallace asked us, "How would you feel about recording some new music." Well I said, "It ain't gonna happen. Spider has got tinnitus. Stig and I haven't been in touch. I haven't played bass for 23 years. "
It was daunting to even think about playing music. But the thing about the music for the DVD, we finally decided, "Well, let's see how it would sound if we recorded it now." Sort of a like an epitaph to finish the DVD- to finally hammer in the final nail in the coffin of Amebix. We wanted to play some songs so people could understand them today. The whole situation turned into where we met up with Roy Mayorga, and we all got along so well it would have been a shame to just let this thing go. So, while it was daunting to go out again, we were getting some very clear signals that it was relevant at this time and we should be doing it. Without being to be too hippy about it, we sort of followed our own noses and saw what doors were opening for us at this time.
We were quite well aware that things were working for us and doors were opening for us. We were just trying to be receptive to that and say "Let's be aware of situation and follow things as they go."
On the new Amebix EP, Redux, you chose to re-record three of your old songs. Why did you pick those songs?
We put the question out to the three of usâ¦ We had never met Roy Mayorga before, and I said to Roy Maroga, "we would like to record two or three songs from the Amebix catalog. What would you put up?" And he said "Winter," which is probably the last one I would have picked, but I was so glad he did. What Roy was getting from the song was what a lot of people were, it has a sort of meaning to to it, despite that it was so badly recorded back in the day. And from me, my thing was putting in the song "Chain Reaction" because that was one of the songs I knew had a very powerful message to it when we played it live and it just tended to build and build and build. It was a sense of feeling that the old recordings were interesting because they were old, and people love older stuff.
I love old Joy Division of because how it sounds, not because of the technical aspects or the productionâ¦ sort of a way to bring these things into a modern context while also being aware that Amebix has kept on getting audience throughout these decades. There are new kids that are just in their teens and twenties that are just getting into the band and its a new discovery for them. In a sense, it was great to make something that was palatable for them with the new production.
It seems that Amebix has a much bigger fan base now than it did during the original run. So, why do you think it took the public so long to understand what the band was doing?
I don't really know, but the sense I got from everything was what we were doing was 20 years too early. Things seem to come about and we got lost in all of that and people forgot were things came from. We were doing things which led directly to the extreme music we have these days and so many people don't know that. It sort of pissed me off for a while but we've gone out and were still around and try to maintain the same ideals we have always have.
Along the idea of the influence you've had, many crust punk bands have cited Amebix as an influence, you've tried to distance yourself from the tag "Crust Punk." How come?
I don't feel that the tag represents us. When we were going, there was no such thing as "Crust punk." It's posthumous. Almost, its like a convenience for people to categorize stuff and make a library and stick it in its cubby hole. I've never wanted to be considered a convenient band to be genre specific that could be tag and filed away in that sense. You know, I've always felt that what we did should stand out in its own right- Amebix is just Amebix. In my mind, there are bands that you don't say have a genre. Motorhead is not heavy metal. Motorhead is Motorhead. Killing Joke is Killing Joke. Joy Division againâ¦ you don't say its post punk experimentation. It's just Joy Division. It should speak for itself.
I felt that we were being pushed into a box that we don't really belong to. I also felt tat people misunderstood the term "crust" to start with. That term originated in Bristol in the scene that we were involved with. There was one guy that started using the term "crust" or "crusty" to talk about us, and Lunatic Fringe, and Disorder and Chaos UK. It was just used to describe our lifestyle. It was one of the guys from Lunatic Fringe said, "We're already crusty." Our clothes were dirty, we didn't have the means to wash. We were living in squats and not he streets for years and years. Fending off our own wits and what we could get together ourselves. We just sort of put our name on that and it caught on much later, after the band were finished. I suppose Hellbastard really took on that term. I mean, people can have that term. I'm not saying that the term is wrong to use. I like a lot of the people and bands in that whole scene. But, the whole reason Arise! and all those sort of things that came about were about rebellion against the conformity we saw int he punk scene anyway.
Why do you think Amebix has such a distinctive sound?
I attribute it to several different things, I suppose. One of contributing factors would be that Stig and I didn't have musical backgrounds. We weren't trying to copy anybody else because we didn't have the means to do that. We couldn't break down songs from other bands and say, "This is the way that this was played." We didn't understand the way chords were played or chord progressions. We weren't talking about song writing. We were talking about a more instinctual process. "Put your hands on the string and try to make a sound that has a particular emotional resonance." Without trying to sound too pretentious, we were just going with what we truly felt. Our music was really from inside. It wasn't an intellectually thought out process. "This makes me feel a certain way, and this lyric is good with that too."
You and your brother Stig have been the only two constant members of Amebix. Does having a sibling in a band such as Amebix create some sort of otherwise unobtainable connection?
I think that the sibling question is a great contributing factor to our sound as well. Stig and I, we have our difficulties, but at the end of the dayâ¦I'm going to digress a little bit. What's happened these days, people nowadays talk about, "How do you feel about playing in the band these days. Does it give you any trepidationâ¦ the idea of a new album?" Initially, yes, it would have done. But, for me it was quite daunting. But, me and Stig started playing together again and , fuck, we don't really have an option but to be Amebix. We play together and it's just what we are. Part of that is because we are brothers and we work together on a different emotional level. We talk about stuff about on a fairly deep level and we try to feel the things on a spiritual level. It goes fairly deep, I suppose.
I glad you mentioned the spiritual connection aspect oft he band. Amebix has the motto "No Gods/ No Masters" but some of the lyrics, particularly the ones on the Monolith Album, seem to have Celtic pagan references. Are these references spiritually influenced, metaphors for the scientific world, or something else?
I think at the end of the day, Amebix is primarily a spiritually influenced band. The great thrust or message of an esoteric nature, and that is open to interpretation too.
You currently live in a rural part in the Isle of Skye. But, Amebix formed in Bristol, which is much more urban. Have these different environments influenced your sound?
Well, actually, Amebix formed in Devon, which is the country. So, myself and Stig started the band in '78, '79. Stig, myself and a couple of school friends returned from school and got the band together. The band started in Devon and then Stig and I moved up to Bristol and started the more serious nature of the band. I increasingly find that the environment affects creativity and how you reflect that creative impulse. I think particularly with the Arise! era of Amebix, actually coming out of Bristol and a very difficult time there, we were able to focus on ideas and trying to encourage other people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and to be self empowered, really.
You've previously stated that while some listeners find Amebix's lyrics to be ones of hopelessness, you meant them to be about self reliance or defiance. Could you expound upon that concept?
I personally feel, and I've always felt a personal responsibility when writing lyrics that they should take the listener into a positive frame of mind. You know, you might be outlining a macabre landscape, if you like, but the ending should always be one of hope. For myself, I think it's a responsibility to be able to bring some kind of hope into that situation. It was really important to us to communicate these ideas to people that were pretty hopeless. The whole time in Bristol, we were surrounded by a scene that was degenerating into a narcissistic, drug abuse environment where people were dying all the time. We wanted what we had to say to be of a positive nature and uplifting to bring people into a fuller consciousness.
Along those lines, punk rock and squat culture have been linked for quite some time. Do you feel that squatting culture is either unfairly glamorized or demonized?
There such a big distance between myself and what we were doing back then. In a sense, growing olderâ¦ some ideas I have these days are ones I wouldn't really have liked when I was younger. To be fair, a lot of us in that scene wereâ¦really, I dunnoâ¦ lazy fucking bastards. We weren't really going to be doing anything with our lives if we could get away with doing nothing. We were almost afforded this time in our lives to indulge ourselves. It was difficult. It was very hard. But, things only became so after a couple of years. Things were winding down at that time.
I don't look at that scene as having a great political relevance or many people having many sound things to say. I look at some of the things from Crass, the bands around then, and they were really kind of the naive statements of kids. They didn't really have a full grasp and were unwilling to interact with the world that they were in.
However, squatting is a great thing. I still think that if there's an empty house if nobody's using it, then somebody should use it. But as for making a pseudo political statement out of it, I don't necessarily think that has any depth or meaning or any long term significance.
What do you think most people miss or fail to hear when listening to Amebix?
Well, it's difficult to say, I suppose. I thought people didn't get it anyway. It wasn't until we went out on the road initially. The funny thing was not playing the UK, and going straight to the USA, where we've never played before, but we were also well aware of the audience over there. What was great about that was finding that there was such a great connection with people- people that I never met before. They come and talk after shows and took some things so deeply down into their lives it became almost a blueprint for the way they perceive things. It's a great responsibility to really think that the message is positive, but also open to interpretation.
Is there any new material coming up?
Yeah. We've been recording a new album. At the end of the last tour, we got some time together and recorded six songs off the back of that, which we've got a rough mix of now, which I'm really, really happy with. It's a funny thing because I was talking to you earlier on [before this interview], worrying about how things were going to come together. But, once we started to write together, it's just like, "Relax, it's gonna be okay." We don't have to be anything for anybody.
The temptation would be to make a typically "Amebix record." But in a sense, thatâs selling out, too. We were always about being true to yourself. Find out what's going on right now in your life and write about that. I don't know how people are gonna react to the new material. but, it's not that I don't care, butâ¦ I don't fucking care. We've already done this. We've made music at a time when no one wanted to listen to us. the punk people hated us and the heavy metal people hated us. We just played what we wanted to play. That's the way it should be. I don't think we should always try to conform to a cozy little space where we're making acceptable songs in acceptable for everybody to consume. If I play a song and I'm happy with it, that's fair enough. If you like it, that's great, and if you don't, that's fine too. You don't have to buy it.
Any last comments?
I suppose I should address the fact that the new EP is re-recorded material that people have already heard, anyway. People might say that it's unnecessary. And I have to agree, it's not necessary. You know, with these tracks, what we were trying to do was make a summary of what Amebix achieved in three distinct periods of that band- To take the stuff format he early Spiderleg years- "Winter;" and Arise!- which is really where things started to come together; and Chain Reaction off Monolith.
It's for people who are familiar with the band but also to give newer listeners a sense of way of grabbing a hold of something immediately to see of they respond to the stuff or notâ¦ a primer for Amebix. What will be coming next, will be properly recorded, and recording of stuff we could only dream about. It's a preview of how we're gonna be doing things from now on.
*Seriously people, check this one out: http://www.high-pasture-cave.org/