The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing interview
interview by Magda Knight
Putting the punk into steampunk. TMTWNBBFN are more interested in Victorian craptimes and Zombie Albert than the pretty frocks and huzzahs of the wealthy 1%. New album out now.
We hear it's going well with the album promotion. What sorts of things have you been up to?
We're not really about gimmicks and promotional tools, so we've been quite low profile. Jez went skiing in the Alps where he ski'd right off a cliff and when his parachute opened it was the artwork for our album - like at the start of 'The Spy Who Loved Me', but obviously no-one saw that. Andrew has been leaving copies of the record under children's pillows if they lose their teeth. If there are no gappy children handy then he knocks their teeth out first, but that's not strictly promotion. Half the time he leaves them the new Cannibal Corpse album instead. Andy and Marc have been trying to chisel all four of our faces into the White Cliffs of Dover like a massive, chalky Mount Rushmore, but we keep being distracted by this little shop in Folkestone where you can see them making Rock. It's been a very under-the-radar release.
The artwork on your latest album is bloody marvellous. Who did it?
Matt Barrett-Jones, who goes by the name Oddboy on the tattoo scene. He's fucking brilliant. Please, people - go to him and ask for a 'Zombie Albert'. That'd be incredible. It is, literally, the 'Zombie Albert' sang about on 'Victoria's Secret'.
Andrew (he's also Andrew O'Neill - occult comedian).
A lot of your songs examine the darker side of The Victorian Age. Deliberate? Issues still relevant today? We're thinking Vicky factory owners would highly approve of the Tescos YTS scheme...
It's easy to overly-romanticise the Victorian era (lots of other bands seem to). The toffs, the twits and the gentry were about 1% of the population - everyone else worked hard, lived in one room (literally, all of them, the entire working population of Birmingham lived in one massive room between 1844 and 1876) and didn't live to see 60. Loads of people like dressing up and saying "Huzzah"*, and wearing a top hat and talking about how splendid their shiny new watch is, but they're completely blind to the bigger picture of work and misery that was the lot for most people in Britain. That's VERY relatable to today - George Osborne is basically the worst kind of Steampunk roleplayer. The Workfare scheme, YTS, A4E, it's all straight out of mid 19th Century. "Are there no Prisons, are there no Union workhouses'? Dickens put that in a Christmas Carol in 1843, he may as well have been talking about today. "Is there no Poundland? Is there no Tescos?".
Gerhard 'Andy' Heintz
What's the current situation on the EMI copyright wrangle?
We're pretty much in the clear. There might have been a case to argue on parody grounds, but we're obviously quite a small organisation (or four people) and they're an admittedly-failing, but certainly still very wealthy business who would have taken us to the cleaners in court. It would have been like one of those Simpsons episodes where Homer tries to take on Mr Burns' team of Lawyers with Lional Hutz. Obviously they've got Coldplay albums to shift, and we wouldn't want to distract them from that - it's pretty much their only income these days. So we re-named the record and that hopefully will be an end to it. We need to repress it anyway, and it's giving us the opportunity to remix it and add some bonus tracks as there's stuff we weren't 100% happy with at the time, that due to budget and time constraints we just lived with. Hopefully there'll be a new CD version out in a few months. And we'd like to take this opportunity to thank EMI for all the well-timed publicity.
You've got your own label: Leather Apron Records. Would you take other bands in on your label? Maybe set up a kind of steampunk community fan-funded thingy?
It's not a bad idea - it's just a matter of having the time to do it properly. We just don't have the time to manage a record company; we're shit enough at promoting our own releases. Maybe something like the Indelicate's 'Corporate Records' (a label anyone can sign themselves to) would be a better way of doing it. It's something we'd like to do, but right now 'independent' means just that. We're out on our own.
Marc Burrows (also a professional comedian)
For your debut album you included a wax cylinder along with instructions to build a phonograph to play them. Have you more DIY ideas for the future?
We've discussed training parrots to sing the a capella numbers and send them around the country. They can fly themselves through your postbox. We think it could take off... they're like the MP3 player that shits on the floor.
In your personal opinion, could Steam do with a bit more Punk?
Yes and no. It definitely needed SOME punk - it felt like the Steampunk circuit was crying out for something heavier and grittier and less fancy, and less rooted in a fantasy world musically and thematically. But that's not to say there shouldn't be that other side too. As a band there's a lot about the Steampunk 'scene' here and in America that winds us up, but then there's a lot more to love about it.
Our songs have more twisted humour running through them than the Studio Ghibli type steampunk that other bands have adopted. We are less sky piracy and more bad science, shoddy taxidermy and zombies...but always anchored in our own version of reality. On our debut album, the song 'Moon' is about trying to fly to the moon in a hot air balloon, but instead of a science fiction tale of moon landings and Selenites, in our song we get a couple of hundred feet up, run out of oxygen and plummet back to earth.
Tales of sad little disappointments. Somehow it just seems more British. And funnier.
Are you gentlemen or cads? If a woman falls in the street and you assist her, do you furtively examine her ankles?
This is a question for one of those other bands we mentioned. We're more like the poor sods queuing in the Luke Fildes painting 'Applicants for admission to a casual ward' than the Terry Thomas style of cartoon bounder.
If there was a TMTWNBBFN tribute band, what would you suggest as a name?
The Men WHO Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. They would then get roughly 75% of our bookings anyway, as everyone gets it wrong. They'd be the version of the band the Grammar Nazis can book. Or maybe The Ve(ph)vensons?
Are you in any way like the Village People? Do you each represent a Steampunk archetype?
Only in that we're fun to play with and only the Indian's really gay. We tried doing a Victorian version of Y.M.C.A. called W.O.R.K.H.O.U.S.E. but it was difficult fitting all the letters in to the chorus, and the dance made us look like we were having synchronised epileptic fits, so we gave up.
Unless we're mistaken you get on well with the thinking lady's crumpet, Phil Jupitus. What's his take on Steampunk? Fear not - if we ever interview him, we'll make him talk about you. Only fair.
He interviewed Andrew about it recently, backstage at our Christmas gig. He seemed pretty into the idea... not sure what he makes of it all in the end. He was brilliant at the gig we had him on at.
Phil loved our steampunk crowd as they 'got' all the geeky references In his poetry... He has a fantastic poem about dieting that paraphrases Rutger Hauer's 'Tears in the rain' speech from blade runner, that he said a lot of 'normal' crowds just don't get!
People shouting "Huzzah" at our gigs (Note from the editors: Oh God. Oh, God.), the Patriarchy, people who vote Tory and people who only like the new Doctor Who but don't bother with the old one.
Andy: I like to shout huzzah every now and then himself. Cos it's funny.
Upcoming gigs, events and thingums?
Andrew and Marc are focusing on writing comedy shows for the Edinburgh Fringe. We're re-releasing the first album with the new title, hoping to do another EP by the end of year, and maybe a do a tour. We're playing Bestival on the Isle of Wight, which will be really ace, and (visas pending) sorting out another trip to the states.
We want to try recording an EP with no guitars next, to force ourselves to broaden our musical pallet, experimenting with different instrumentation etc... And we are talking about an EP of cover versions, where we choose a couple of tracks that the band agree on, and a track each that the others can't veto...regardless of how outrageous the choice is!
You will continue to mess about, won't you? You won't get all X-Factor?
Only if you vote to keep us in next week. We really want this. We'll give it 110%.
Is there anything we should have asked you but were too selfish to do so?
You could have asked us to explain the meaning of life. But you didn't.
* (Editors, in quiet voice) But... but... we like saying 'huzzah'. And we really do pay attention to the impoverished 99%. We write steampunk stories about crotchety gay old women being mardy in Australian colonies, FFS, and about Jack the Ripper being a mardy Jew butcher who finds out about Hiroshima and Little Boy, and about skivey, mardy little kids digging out the first underground railway system. Does it... help? Does it... help at all? Oh, God. Who are we? What have we done? What have we... become?
[At this point, shoulders slumped, the Mookychick editors go off to a quiet corner to consider themselves. They may be some time.]
See more Feminist interviews on Mookychick
Read Mookychick's album review (5 stars)
@MagdaKnight is an author and the Co-Founder / Editor of Mookychick. Her YA and cross-genre fiction has been published in anthologies and in 2000AD. She likes you already, you know. It must be the jaunty angle of your hat. You can email her and visit her blog.