THE PETE LYONS INTERVIEW – AUGUST 2011
In the summer of 2011 Lee took time out to do the first interview since the band’s reformation with guitarist and lyricist Pete Lyons.
In it Pete discusses the whys and wherefores of getting back together, old stuff, new stuff and other stuff along the way.
Twenty-four years since their initial demise, Antisect are once again an active force. Always far more than just another rock ‘n’ roll band, their significance in the UK underground and beyond has never been fully acknowledged. As the years pass by more and more people are starting to appreciate their significance as a source of inspiration to many other bands and individuals, both lyrically and artistically. Their message of individual freedom was as much liberating as it was inspirational back in the 80s when ‘Anarcho-punk’ really did seem to offer an alternative lifestyle. Whether they would have considered themselves Anarcho-punk is another story, but as with a lot of other bands and artists at that time, they carried their own torch through the bleakness of society.
Early recordings show obvious influences and whilst the sound was killer raging hardcore punk, it wasn’t until the release of the seminal debut and only album In Darkness There is No Choice was released in 1983 that their true individuality was realised.
From then on they forged forward, always approaching their music with interesting twists and turns, and were certainly one of the heaviest bands that Britain had to offer. Their metallic edge and uncompromising lyrical stance had a huge influence on what would eventually become known as ‘Britcore’, a naff term adopted by the British music press towards the late 80’s. Unfortunately, the only recordings that exist from the post – In Darkness days are one 7” (Out From The Void) and a multitude of live soundboard recordings and bootlegs that have been in circulation ever since. Founding member Pete Lyons gives some straight talking answers on subjects relating to things past, present and future.
First of all I have to say how great it is to have Antisect back after all this time; One of the most truly inspiring bands ever to come out of Britain in my mind. Obvious question – why now?
People had been asking us off and on for years, but the combination of the need to head off into our own worlds after we originally split back in ’87 and life taking over in the intervening years meant that the time just never seemed right. It is something that we’ve all thought long and hard about, and in a way it would probably be a lot safer to leave it alone. (Not tarnish the myth and all that shite… blah, blah, blah…) We know there will be plenty of cynics, but essentially we feel we’ve got something to say, both ideas wise and musically and the fact that the various responsibilities that life has thrown at us have begun to ease up a little now gives us the time and opportunity to do it. We had a repeated offer from the USA and eventually decided to meet up, have a chat about it and see where we were all coming from nowadays, and it was a surprisingly easy experience for everyone. Of course some ideas and opinions have altered through the years, but we found that essentially we all pretty much held the same basic beliefs as we did back then. A night of debauchery ensued, with the end result being the decision to try a day in the studio to see how it felt musically. A month or so later saw us play together for the first time in 20-odd years, and, despite the odd bit of rust, it felt surprisingly good.
Since playing your first ‘reunion’ show in Puntala, Finland, what were you anticipating prior to it and how does it feel to have now finally done it? Are you looking forward to getting out there and playing more?
We didn’t really know what to expect at all, to be honest. Once we made the announcement that we’d reformed, we got a fair few offers from here, there and everywhere. The USA show was due in June and as it became evident that there was no way we were going to be ready in time, we thought that giving ourselves a deadline would be a good way of kicking ourselves into gear. Puntala came in, the timing was just about doable, and it seemed like the ideal place to start. We spent a day or so there either side of the show and were genuinely blown away by the response and the reaction. Yep. it was kinda weird to find ourselves on stage again after so long, and not everything went right but then, when does it ever? We cut loose a bit after the show and most of us spent the rest of the night and on into the late hours of the morning hanging out and chatting with people. It’s probably fair to say that the whole thing was a surreal experience, but yeah, it was good to have done it and it probably helped remind us all that it can be as much about meeting and communicating with people as it is about rock n roll.
Does it feel like there is a bit of unfinished business to achieve since your original demise? You did have a bit of a reputation for not turning up to gigs – I can count at least three that I went to off the top of my head! Haha…
Our lifestyles are a lot different now to how they were back in the day. You have to remember that back then some of us were squatting, some of us were on the road and some things just weren’t as easy to come across as they are today. If we didn’t make it to a scheduled gig, it wouldn’t have been because we didn’t want to do it. More than likely a case of shite transport or some such other unforeseen crisis emerging from the way we lived. We’ve actually hitched to our own gigs in the past on more than one occasion and anyone who’s attempted that knows how ridiculous and unpredictable it can be. We have the benefit of being able to be more organised about things now. Communication is a lot easier and in a lot of ways, it’s a totally different set up. Unfinished business? Not so much that, as a desire to see where we can take it.
Through various phases of the band, the line-up that’s currently in place appears to be a unique combination of members from both the In Darkness.. and latter day periods. There’s a distinct, if basic, difference between these two passages of the band, in the sense that the first is more clearly ‘politicised’ and hardcore punk sounding, whereas the latter had a more post apocalyptic grinding rock & roll vibe to it. Was it intentional/important for the reunited band to contain both of these elements and if so, why?
It was always going to be important to have as many original members involved as possible. We know that people want to hear both the material from the “In Darkness…” period as well as the later, unreleased stuff, and we think that the crossover of members from both periods gives this incarnation a solidity and integrity, plus, in all honesty, we wouldn’t have done it had that not been possible. We wouldn’t agree though that the latter period wasn’t as politicised. Yes. The sound was evolving to a darker and heavier style, and the lyrical content wasn’t as overt as previously, but our intent definitely remained the same. There are, after all, only so many ways you can express the same sentiments in the same way before you begin to parody yourself? We were simply moving things on, in a way that was a reflection of who we were.
Apart from these elements, are you planning to introduce new perspectives, songs, visuals etc to the current band?
Yep. Pretty much all of that. We’re 25 years older, so yes, though the core essence of what the band was always about remains. there are obviously gonna be new perspectives here and there.
We’ve began demoing new material including reworking some of the later unreleased stuff, so yep, there are plans for a release. It’s pretty fair to say that it’s not gonna be “In Darkness 2”. Musically it is shaping up to be pretty much in line with how we were going before we split, though it will fairly certainly include a few twists and turns along the way. The visual element has always been something we’ve wanted to include. We’re trying things out with one or two people and though it’s difficult to predict at this stage, hopefully we will begin to incorporate this into the shows as things progress.
With the re-introduction of Pete Boyce and Caz Eden into the fold, do you feel that there is more to live up to in terms of the original ideals of the band back then? What was the original reason for them parting company in the first place and how did they initially feel about coming back? (sorry if that’s a boring/cliché’ question).
There’s nothing in particular that we feel the need to live up to. The original ideals didn’t change greatly throughout the later stages of the band. The fact that the material from the later period was never released, possibly meant that the subject matter and ethos were not really documented in a way that defined the band during that time, unlike the “In Darkness…” period.
Pete left the band in ’85 when he decided he simply wanted to do something else with his life. He’d joined at a really young age and went through the whole gamut of circumstances and situations that being in the band had thrown up and just felt that he needed the change. Over the past few years he’d put up the first, basic website and since that time he’d had various people asking him about a reformation. When we made contact, it just seemed natural that he be part of it this time round. He was, after all, a pretty significant figure in the writing of “In Darkness…”
With Caroline, it became more and more obvious that, with the way the music was evolving, there were less and less opportunities to include the type of thing she had previously done. This time round, again, we wanted to include her, as apart from anything else, we felt it would be better to have the inclusion of a female perspective. We’ve all known Caroline for a very long time and we all love her to bits, but unfortunately, for a number of reasons, things haven’t worked out the way we had hoped and we’ve reluctantly agreed that she will not now perform with us.
As you state, a lot of things have changed since the old days. This is perhaps a sensitive subject and is not so much directed at Antisect but more generally. You’ve mentioned that since the early days only you and one other band member are still vegetarians.
Looking back do you think it is strange that people seemed to have been so passionate about animal liberation, to the point where they were quite fearless about getting arrested or worse for their beliefs? Later on in life it seems to a lot of people from those days that it was more ‘something we used to do’, as opposed to it being a lifelong philosophy or lifestyle? Also, how does the affect the choice of songs you choose to play in the set?
It can be a lot easier to be more outwardly radical as a young person when our circumstances mean that responsibilities are more limited. For a lot of us, as life moves on and circumstances alter, the choices we make become more complex. Raising a family for example, brings with it it’s own set of dilemmas. For instance, is it right that we would bring up our chidren in the image of ourselves? Or does this simply engender another set of “rules”? Of course it doesn’t hurt to offer them an alternative view to the one that’s most commonly presented to them, but surely we must be mindful that we allow them the opportunity to develop their own morality in their own way. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that, when one has the responsibilities of a family for instance, that person is less likely to want to risk destabilsing it by having themselves put inside for taking part in some overt political act. So as time goes on, those of us who have the inclination, generally find more subtle ways of expressing our thoughts and feelings.
Inevitably, in doing this, compromises are made. It pretty much comes down to where we draw our own personal line. There are very few of us who manage to live in complete accordance with our beliefs. Life in the 21st century contains so many issues that what most of us do is make a series of choices based on priority and levels of compromise. We all, in some way, contribute to the machine, but what’s important is that we keep sight of the bigger picture, which itself can often appear abstract as we become absorbed in trying to simply assert ourselves on the myriad of situations that day to day living throws up.
There has only ever been one line up of Antisect when all the members were non meat eaters. This was the final line up before we split in 1987. We’ve never wished to dictate to whoever might be in the band that giving up meat should be a prerequisite. It is a band, first and foremost. Albeit a band with very definite views and perspectives. Granted, the issue of animal rights is a passionate one, and one that rightly should have a place in the overall debate, but, without meaning to trivialise it in any way, we prefer to see it as one issue and one part of a much broader whole.
At least from the release of In Darkness…onwards, Antisect has always been very original both creatively and musically, when considering the scene it evolved from. Lyrically I would say that Antisect was more philosophical than political, or even ‘Anarchist’. The sleevenotes within the album I always found to be very enlightening and personal when compared to the more, dare I say intellectual approach of Crass or basic approach of Discharge. I suppose it’s easy for others to put things into perspective years after the event but how do you feel looking back about what you wrote and the way it was presented? Do you feel that your message from back then is still relevant today?
If we didn’t feel that pretty much everything we said back then still has resonance today, there’s no way that we would have seriously considered getting back together. We’re constantly made aware of how people who have never seen the lyrics until recently feel they have a connection and a relevance to what is going on in the world today. Let’s face it. Not a great deal has really changed. If we came across as more philsophical back then it would probably be a reflection of our belief that we change nothing without first taking a look at ourselves. It’s probably fair to say that all of us would align ourselves with anarchism in the broadest sense, but this alone is open to so much interpretation and complexity that to say we were “anarchists” seems simply to serve the purpose of establishing this fixed identity, which can be manipulated and interpreted at will. All of us. You, me, everyone, are first and foremost human beings. We were born like that and we will die like that also. Everything really is in us.
There is of course the age-old problem, or should I say perception, that if you are a band that has recorded and released something, it’s very easy for the listener to stick you in that in that place and never allow you to move on from it. In a strange way it has now almost become fashionable for kids to wear patches with Amebix, Peni, Antisect etc logo’s plastered all over their black clothes, to the point where it’s even ‘hip’ in some circles.
With this in mind, it’s very easy to become critical of peoples motivations. On the other hand, it could be seen as a positive thing but like most artforms that eventually become defined, the overall sense is that people are more concerned with looking back as opposed to forwards.
There’s no denying that the renewed popularity in this kind of music has made it easier for you and certainly Amebix, to return (and rightly so), but how do you feel about the whole ‘nostalgia trip’ aspect that it could be conceived as by some?
We’re not here on any nostalgia trip whatsoever. Let’s make that clear. We’re here to look forward, not back. Of course we realise that some people will want to talk about what went down before, and that’s fine. We’re happy to do that. We’re happy to perform some of the older material, but that’s not the purpose of doing this. We’re sure that there will be certain aspects of what we might do that will draw blood from the people that still see us how they saw us back in the day, and that’s fine. We’re not doing this to make friends. We’re doing it because we like the noise we make and this is our vehicle to express our thoughts and feelings.
Musically as well, you weren’t afraid to try different things. As time went on, the more metallic influence seemed to shine through stronger and in many respects you were ahead of the game. Whereas the metal influence on Discharge led them to glam, it seemed to make Antisect heavier.
Of course the lack of real message in metal generally seemed to dilute the punk scene of its social awareness, and the emphasis started to become more focused on technical ability and pseudo fantasy lyrics around about the mid-late eighties. Was this something that you ever thought about? Did you ever feel that the meaning of songs often got lost by the pure aggression of the music?
To us, it seemed like the social awareness aspect of the scene gradually disintegrated as more people tired of the battles they had to endure in order to exist in that cultural framework. The shift for some people towards a less politised genre like metal, was maybe a part reflection of that. Though obviously, punk and metal are not a million miles away from each other anyway. We’ve never really thought of ouselves as a “punk” band or a “metal” band, to be honest. Although the links are obviously there. We wrote and played what we wanted to hear at the time. Besides, our technical limitations simply wouldn’t allow us to be a more technical type of band even if we had ever wanted to be. We were quite happy with our riffola. As for the lyrical style, we’ve never considered writing pseudo fantasy lyrics. That’s simply not what we’re about. It’s true that the lyrics on our later material are less overt that previously, but the subject matter remains consistant.
Music reflects our emotions, and if it is to do that accurately, then it must surely reflect feelings other than simply anger or rage. It’s pretty difficult though, to express the wider range of our emotions through a fixed genre, and that’s where we’re coming from when we say we don’t think of ourselves as a this band or that band. Yes. Our music is predominately dark and heavy, but you can be sure we’ll continue to explore the other sides of who we are from time to time.
Despite all of the question marks surrounding integrity, motives and the way things ‘aren’t like they used to be’, it must be pretty gratifying to learn that your music has stood the test of time and since become popular all around the world, way more so than it ever was at the time?
Yes. No doubt about it. It is nice to feel that we might have touched the hearts and minds of people around the globe and hugely gratifying to think that somehow we leave our mark on the world, but at the same time, we’re only a very small fish in a great sea. As kids, starting out from the band hall in a small town in the midlands, to the point we’re at now, none of us could have foreseen the times, good, bad and some just plain weird, we have had in between.
What are the question marks surrounding integrity, motives and the way “things aren’t like they used to be”, exactly?
Over the years, many bootlegs of demos & live recordings have appeared on the scene, which I would imagine are in no way authorised by band members? Is this something that bothers you and have you ever thought about compiling some of these recordings yourselves, making it legitimate?
With only two commercially released recordings, these bootlegs or old cassettes are the only way a lot of people can put the bands history into perspective. Maybe you prefer that there is a certain sense of anonymity to these recordings being out there, because at least they are?
The main thing that kinda bothers us is that there has definitely been a bunch of people out there making money out of us without being straight up enough to contact us first to see how we might feel about it. True, there was a time when this was more difficult than it is now, but a simple rule of thumb might be, if you don’t have the band’s permission for you to exploit them in this way, then, if you have any integrity, you simply don’t do so. The other thing is that the quality can often be pretty poor. People have very differing ideas of what constitutes quality control, either in the audio or the presentation.
There are plans in the pipeline to compile an “anthology”, of sorts, and we’re talking with one or two people about it, but it’s early days yet. We’ll see what happens…
What is the true story regarding the aborted second album that was scheduled for release through Mortarhate?
How far did you get into the recording process, where was it initially recorded and why was it never finished?
It was a strange time for us. There had been lots of upheavals in people’s personal lives and plus it’s probably fair to say that we were all definitely “overdoing it”. The whole thing is a pretty hazy memory now, but the simplest way to put it would be to say it just came at the wrong time. We began tracking at The Greenhouse studios, near Old Street in London and, interspersed with slavering drink and drugs sessions, cut most of the drum tracks there. We then moved on to Alaska studios in Waterloo to start work on the guitars and vocals. Which is probably where it hit the wall.
It was becoming more and more difficult to express what was in our heads. “In Darkness…” had enabled us to document our thoughts and feelings from the first years of our adult lives and, in doing that, it used up a lot of subject matter. Conscious of not wanting to repeat ourselves, it made the whole lyric writing process from then on a lot more complex. Musically, we’d written what we felt was some great material, but, if we’re honest, we were probably coming up short in our ability to do it justice in the studio. The other part of it was that we were finding it increasingly hard to reconcile our thoughts with the stuff that was going on around us at the time. Despite some close associations, we’d never really felt like we were a part of any “movement” or whatever you might wanna call it, but by this time, possibly more because of the direction the music had taken, we were definitely feeling a bit out on a limb. Plus I think we felt that the label, whilst certainly helping us with regards to the studio sessions, along with a few other people around us, didn’t really “get” what we were about, so there did feel like there was a little distance there. In truth, I think that at that stage a lot of stuff combined and we just felt a little bit lost and simply unable, for various reasons, to get out what was inside.
Looking back at a time when the band was initially active, it seemed that a lot of people and similar bands were genuinely hungry for change. What do you think the music of that period did actually change and do you think it has been long lasting? How would you compare, if you could to the music or ‘punk scene’ of today?
If any of the events of that particular time changed anything, I would like to think that they may have encouraged a few people to evaluate themselves more, and to look at the world around them with a broader perspective. In an every day sense, it sowed the seeds for what has become a much larger underground network of people, musicians, discussion boards, venues, art space, you name it, today, and on a personal level, I’m just as hungry for change now as I was when I was 18. Sure, I express it in different ways, but what was in my head then, is definitely still there now. I hesitate to put a label on it, but…. well…. you know…..