Interview: Amebix

I am proud of the records we have made and the fact that it still means something to myself and other people, all done with whatever was available and on our own terms. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

Amebix have been a huge influence on a whole range of bands from the extreme music spectrum from Neurosis and Sepultura to Hellhammer and Darkthrone as well as countless crust punk and hardcore bands. With the history of Amebix being so deep and influential, Gavin Brown had a chat with guitarist Stig Miller to delve into the band’s past, the recording of their classic albums and subsequent comeback and enduring legacy as well as hearing about what he is working on at the moment and how he is keeping busy during this uncertain period.

E&D: Are you working on anything musically at the moment?

Stig: Yes, I am working on several projects, come to think of it I have been very busy musically behind the scenes over the last few years. I still have solo stuff to catch up on as I put so much energy into other collaborations and stuff that it got left behind but I’m getting back to it.

E&D: How are you keeping busy during this uncertain lockdown period?

Stig: Making music, pottering about doing some gardening. Pretty much same as usual really for me!

E&D: When did you start playing guitar and who are your biggest influences?

Stig: I picked up a cheap Strat Copy electric guitar in 1978 with vague intentions of learning to play it one day. But learning to play looked boring as fuck, so I worked around it, remaining unhindered by musical knowledge to this very day. I wouldn’t say I had actual specific guitarist influences. I like the feel of a song or piece of music, but I never try to copy anyone else although I might channel the feeling somehow.

E&D: How did you get into punk in the first place and what was it that made you want to form a band?

Stig: I was initially a Bowie freak in the early 70s listening to the more weird bands of the time like Roxy Music then getting into stuff like Hawkwind. In 1975 I came across the Raw Power album by The Stooges in a little local record shop (it had been siting there since ’73 when it first came out). I took it home and played it. I had never heard anything like it before, it was hard to listen to, at first it sounded like a load of industrial factory noise to me but after a few listens it all made sense …. that kind of prepared my ears for the coming of punk rock in the U.K. a year or so later I understood it. I was waiting for it …every pissed off disempowered kid was.

E&D: What are your memories of when Amebix first started as a band?

Stig: A lot of frustration at first, not knowing how to tune or play a guitar or anything else, but just sticking at it with bloody minded determination to make something on your own terms, eventually you create something that is your own but it doesn’t come easy at first.

E&D: How did it feel to feature on Bullshit Detector Vol 1 compilation on Crass Records?

Stig: It was initially very encouraging to actually be on a record even if it’s not really any good (the song), it led us to believe it was possible to do, make records.

E&D: Were Crass and their ethos a big influence on Amebix?

Stig: At the beginning I think they were, the way they were doing things was completely new at the time.

E&D: How exciting was it being in the studio doing the Who’s The Enemy and No Sanctuary EPs?

Stig: Who’s The Enemy EP, we recorded in a few hours at S.A.M studios in Bristol with Steve Street at the desk if I remember rightly, pretty much unrehearsed. We just went in and banged out what we could as quickly as we could mixed it then it was done. No Sanctuary, we actually had some rehearsed songs to record so it took a few days in Southern Studios in London to bang them down, that was more enjoyable as ideas were flowing and at the end of each day we would have new ideas to put in. Things seemed to flow fairly effortlessly, music is a pleasure to be involved in when the ideas are flowing and you can see “the face in the fog taking shape as it moves toward you and becomes recognisable“, so to speak.

E&D: Who did you feel was the main enemy at that time and do you still feel the same today?

Stig: We are our own worst enemy … even more so.

 

E&D: What are your main recollections of recording the Arise and Monolith albums?

Stig: Arise we recorded once again at S.A.M Studio in Bristol, a lot of the songs had been played live in various different versions on little tours and gigs, this time we had “Rockin Boy Sooty“ at the desk and new drummer Spider on board. Even though it was hard times and all kinds of shit was going on it was exciting seeing it all take shape and giving it a little shove in the right direction. I managed to set my hands on fire staying in a squat up the road and had to play with bandaged hands for the last few songs. I sometimes wonder how we got anything done at all, to say things were “chaotic” would be a huge understatement.

Monolith we recorded later at the newer S.A.M premises, which was a 24 track desk and bigger rooms just off Stokes Croft in Bristol. We had demoed a few tracks at a little 8 track studio outside Bath so we had an idea of how it would be. It took a couple of weeks all in all with my brother and myself blatting into the studio each day from Radstock on his trusty Triumph. We mixed it down with Sooty and had some flute tracked for the intro by his girlfriend, with Andy Wiggins on synth, so a bit more relaxed than Arise, not so many accidents.

E&D: How did you come to be on Alternative Tentacles for the Arise album and how was your time on the label?

Stig: Jello Biafra liked the cut of our collective jibs or so I remember they did their job and let us do ours, I never had any problems with Alternative Tentacles, they also got us more U.S. coverage.

E&D: Did you work closely with Jello Biafra when you were on Alternative Tentacles?

Stig: Well, we had already recorded the record, so musically no.

E&D: Were Dead Kennedys and other U.S. hardcore bands an inspiration on Amebix at all?

Stig: Sure, I always felt the production quality of a lot of U.S. punk records was so much better than the U.K. The bands were tighter and more “professional “ than we were so it was something to aim for.

E&D: Of all the many gigs that Amebix played, do any stick out straight away as being particularly memorable?

Stig: Many, but for different reasons good and bad, playing Sarajevo just before the genocide there for instance was fucking crazy, strangest atmosphere which was very, very tense.

E&D: Did you have a particular kinship with any bands from around that time or did you feel that Amebix were out on there own pretty much?

Stig: We were friends with everyone, but we were out on our own in other ways I guess, a tad “odd “ maybe, maybe even two tads.

E&D: When Amebix split, you formed Zygote, do you have good memories of those days and releasing your album A Wind Of Knives?

Stig: All my memories of Zygote are pretty blurry we had “a good time all the time”. A Wind of Knives I think we recorded at Whitehouse Studios in Weston, I can’t remember how long it took or much about it to be honest but we had some proper mad times in Zygote, “excessive” to be honest.

E&D: What was the impetus behind Amebix getting back together in 2008?

Stig: Well, we were getting some tracks together for the Risen DVD. It was supposed to be a kind of story of Amebix sort of thing, we were going to re-record a few old songs using the newer digital technology. Spider had tinnitus and couldn’t do it so my brother got in contact with Roy Mayorga and he was totally into it, he also had the ability to record us, we started jamming stuff and it felt right. We were holed up just outside Belfast in Ireland for a few weeks and decided it would be good to see if we could do a little tour at some point, it developed from the vibe of playing together.

E&D: How was it getting back into the studio for the Sonic Mass album and how did the recording sessions go?

Stig: A lot of it was recorded on the fly in various different places as Roy had his Pro Tools rig constantly with him so if we had an idea we could track it wherever we were. We finished it of in Northampton using an old analogue desk (gave it a nice feel) and it was different than the way we used to do things but it all was done fairly quickly as we had ideas already collected.

E&D: What did Roy bring to that record and the Amebix sound?

Stig: His unique drum style and also his recording and production skills (I Iearned a lot watching Roy).

E&D: Did you first meet when he was in Nausea and both bands were on Alternative Tentacles?

Stig: Unfortunately not, although Nausea were just behind Zygote on a tour of Poland in the very late 80s we never actually got to meet up. So, I did not get to know Roy until 2007ish.

E&D: Were you surprised by the reaction that the album got after not being away for so long?

Stig: I guess people liked it? I don’t really get into all the reviews and critiques, some people hated it at first, but like mold it eventually grew on them, I haven’t listened to it since we recorded it.

E&D: Will Amebix ever do anything again in the future in some capacity?

Stig: I couldn’t say … who knows.

E&D: How does it make you feel when so many bands cite Amebix as an influence, not just in punk and hardcore circles but the amount of metal bands too?

Stig: It’s nice to know you’ve made some kind of impression and that it resonated with people.

E&D: You guested on the Sourvein album Aquatic Occult. How did that go and how did it come about?

Stig: Well, T Roy got in touch with me and I started trying to write something for them. I recorded the pieces on a shitty old bass amp as I didn’t have a guitar amp at the time. They became the intro and outro to their record Aquatic Occult.

E&D: You also did the guitar engineering on the album, how was that experience?

Stig: Well, that’s not really true. I think Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity did the actual studio recording, but you could say that I “engineered” my guitar bit anyway, but it would be stretching the truth considerably!

E&D: Is engineering in the studio something you have done since and will do again?

Stig: On my own stuff yeah, I have taught myself to record my own stuff and would like to get into that in a bigger way at some point.

E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments in your musical career so far?

Stig: I am proud of the records we have made and the fact that it still means something to myself and other people, all done with whatever was available and on our own terms. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

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