Interview: Interrobang‽

The energy and buzz I get from being on stage, the adrenalin rush and the pure enjoyment is my high; I love it, I revel in it, it feels like it is where I am meant to be… I hope it rubs off on people. I hope people get it, I hope they feel inspired by it, relate to it, share in it.

Interrobang!? are a taut and feisty post punk three piece, their self titled debut album lands this weekend as they set out on a 16 date national tour, main man Dunstan Bruce answers us a few questions . ..

(((O))): Starting at the beginning, it’s an obvious one but how did Interrobang !? come in to being?

I hit a bit of a low point around about hitting the age of 50. I felt like I was in a rut, that I was becoming less and less communicative and to be frank, that I was becoming invisible. I was frustrated but didn’t have an outlet for that frustration. I thought about how best to express this feeling of ineffectualness and gradual fading away so I started writing. Putting these ideas and feelings down into something. It started to feel incredibly cathartic. It was a personal outpouring.

Strangely, I was working with Mark Chadwick of the Levellers at the time and he encouraged me to try and do something musical with these words. He mistakenly thought I could sing and suggested we try to do something together. He had a mighty shock when he discovered I was a tuneless incompetent. However, these few painful attempts at recording something had given me the impetus to do something more suited to my vocal skills and delivery. One drunken night in Leeds I told Griff all about it. He was immediately enthused and insisted that he could provide the soundscape to go with my words. So we created a moodboard. Dr Feelgood, Gang of Four, Wire, The Sonics, Fugazi, Grinderman, etc etc were on there. That was the start. We passed stuff back and forward for ages and squeezed into a ridiculously small rehearsal room and started to try and create songs out of it all…

(((O))): You’d had about ten years out of doing music hadn’t you?

When I left Chumbawamba in 2005 I thought of it as the end of a chapter of my life. I was spent. I wanted to move on and do something different unrelated to Chumbawamba and the legacy of that. I was living in Brighton and was a relatively new father of two. I was kinda the primary carer for a while and it was exhausting and draining. I hadn’t prepared for the shock of being out of the Chumbawamba bubble; it was difficult watching them carry on as a four-piece and not being a part of it any more. That was my band!

I started to get involved in documentary helping Daisy Asquith make her films; we set up a production company called Dandy Films. I got to go to China with Sham 69 and make a film called This Band Is So Gorgeous then I got to make a film about the Levellers called A Curious Life. It was whilst working with the Levellers that they decided to do Tubthumping as an encore on a tour I was filming. I got up every night and did it with them. It made me realise that was my natural habitat. That’s what I was good at, that was what I knew. This all coincided with me writing. Interrobang became the result of all of that.

(((O))): Was the minimalism of the line up always intended or did it just fall out that way?

For quite some time it was just me n Griff and we were happy with that. Because he was doing all this amazing guitar looping stuff it seemed unnecessary to get other musicians in at first. We did once try doing stuff with a bassist but it just felt too busy and conflicting. We liked the minimalism and how the vocals and guitars worked together. Having Harry involved was an absolute godsend. He got it immediately. He knew how to respect the space in the music. Our first rehearsal with him was incredible. Harry and Griff are just remarkable, incredible musicians. I am in awe of them both.

(((O))): Thematically a facing down of mid life crisis, while arguably being one, it’s more personal than your previous writing  – do you feel a lot more exposed?

Chumbawamba talked of the problems of the world but very rarely from a personal perspective. It was a collective point of view that we all had to feel comfortable with and in agreement with. We wrote collectively and edited and honed stuff so any one song could be a collection of three people’s lyrics. This, however, is a very, very personal affair. I have never expressed myself in this way before. It surprised people for sure. Close friends, relatives, partners. It wasn’t always easy.

I hadn’t realised that I was now saying stuff I had never said in public before and that people were actually listening to the words. I’ve really enjoyed the experience of middle aged men talking frankly about their own fucked up relationships with their dads for instance. And that feeling of becoming invisible; it’s universal. You don’t have to have been famous to feel that fall from grace. I definitely want to talk to people of my generation of what it feels like and what the fuck do we do about it.

(((O))): I have to confess I initially thought the name was a bit rubbish, but the combination of exclamation and questioning completely suits what the band is about, there’s three songs on the album with question marks at the end, are you just a glutton for punctuation?

I was originally attracted to the name because I thought the glyph itself was a brilliant graphic symbol. I thought that it would work on record covers, posters, t-shirts etc. The actual meaning of the word was a wonderful coincidence really. That “what the fuck” aspect of it seemed to chime perfectly with the current state of the world. I am actually a massive fan of the semi-colon. It’s not as sexy as an interrobang I know but I love using it all the same…

(((O))): So the band’s been going a few years but you’re hitting critical mass now with the album out properly in glorious orange vinyl and this pretty intense looking tour… no days off, is it going to kill you? 

I’m kind of ridiculously excited and ridiculously terrified of this tour. Lou from Chumbawamba has made me a survival kit full of remedies and potions. Over-the-counter stuff. No tramadol. Maybe codeine but no tramadol. That shit is dangerous. I’m 57. I’m going to be sleeping on Griff’s settee half the time. I’m worried that my back might go. I’m worried that my voice might disappear. These are the things I worry about. Not sex. Not drugs. I’m not being facetious when I say that if I was going to die on tour, please let it be on stage and not in a service station toilet.

On the plus side, the energy and buzz I get from being on stage, the adrenalin rush and the pure enjoyment is my high; I love it, I revel in it, it feels like it is where I am meant to be… I hope it rubs off on people. I hope people get it, I hope they feel inspired by it, relate to it, share in it. Gigs are fantastic if only for the feeling of commonality you sometimes get. I hope Interrobang gigs do that. Places of unholy communion.

(((O))): You’ve got loads of great support acts on the tour, including Eight Rounds Rapid who were one of the bands I thought of when I first heard you, and I know you’ve made an effort to have female bands on the bill too – tell me a bit about that

We have admired Eight Rounds Rapid from afar for quite some time so when they got in touch we were delighted. I love what they do. There’s not much else to say, they’re a perfect match for us. I tried to ensure that at every show we did it wasn’t just a man-fest on stage night after night. Cassie Fox and her Loud Women are a massive inspiration to me and I wanted to embrace the moment and the feeling that is around at the moment. I prefer the company of a loud woman to a boorish man any day of the week.

(((O))): God, don’t we all? Looking at the tour dates, it’s a massively impressive achievement logistically, by which I mean independent bands on the first album these days don’t seem to be able to put together this sort of tour, it seems like certain chunks of infrastructure for it have gone. How did you find that things had changed?

What I found was a lot of very enthusiastic, committed promoters willing to, firstly, forgive me for selling out to the man back in the day, and then to totally embrace the idea of getting local charities involved at each gig, whether to say a few words or to collect for. It’s reawakened my involvement in  all these grassroots organisations on a small scale doing something very, very important and useful. Sometimes all the problems of the big bad world out there feel insurmountable; down here on the ground it feels like we can start to make small differences.

(((O))): You’ve a flair for the low key theatrical and there’s a certain sharp, almost sort of mod, aspect to the bands look – is there a logic driving that along with the music or are you simply dapper gents who like to present themselves well upon the stage?

First and foremost it’s a performance what we do; a presentation of ideas and music. It’s suggesting a certain approach to life, the state of the world, to how we feel about who we are and what we are now we are hitting middle age. It’s the implicit message of “we’re not about to give up”. It’s saying we’re not going to let ourselves go; we’re still passionate and we still mean it man. It’s also saying look, this is serious. It’s not a hobby. It’s part of the middle aged creative malaise that we are trying to overcome. I just thought this now “sharp suits, sharp minds” Of course, it’s complete bollocks but if I was in marketing I might suggest it as a motto for us…

(((O))): Speaking of dressing up ‘Love It All’ led me watch ‘The Man Whose Mind Exploded’ which is a great film that inspired it, on the surface its sentiment seems at odds with a lot of the anger and confusion of the record but would you say they’re sort of two sides of the same coin? 

That film was incredibly inspiring to me; how Drako just didn’t care at all. I loved how every moment was a performance. I loved how he was really canny using his disorder as a get out clause at times. He was a smart guy who had found his place in the world and didn’t give a damn how that looked. I loved his peacockery too. I first wrote that song as a homage to Drako but then thought I should turn it round to question my own look on life. The love it all bon-mot seemed like the perfect antidote to a lot of negativity around my world at that time. It was a call to arms to myself; a kick up my own arse!

(((O))): It’s been a while getting to this point, dare I ask – are there already new songs? Have you thought about what comes next after this tour?

Oh god, yes! There are lots of sets of lyrics knocking about but we’ve started talking about how the second album can’t be a carbon copy of the first. It’s got to say and do something completely different. I’ve already moved on from the point at which I wrote these lyrics on the first album; I’m already ready to tackle something new and fresh. Unfortunately it’s not going to be a second album about how hard fame and riches are to deal with and how I have men and women chasing me for my money and celebrity…

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