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INTERVIEW #2 | Show Review and Interview

Show Review and Interview
Interview with Grant of Rudimentary Peni
(from Fear and Loathing, by unidentified author)


There's a return to live performance by a band I thought I'd never see... Rudimentary Peni have become as legendary for their long, myth-filled periods of inactivity as they have for their excellent, albeit small, volume of vinyl releases. Two E.P.s and the Death Church LP exist from their early days at the beginning of the 80s, whilst the more bizarre, Lovecraft-inspired genius of the Cacophony LP surfaced in 1989, apparently two years late... In between times, there's rumours and stories aplenty of unreleased albums, recordings still unfinished of collaborations with Steve Albini, and most recently tales of an entirely new LP due for imminent release. All of this, and suddenly they announce a gig at New Cross Venue, their first live outing for virtually a decade. Attendance was beyond doubt, despite the usual Sunday inadequacies of the British Rail. Through several phone calls, I blag a real bonus: Alison and Neil at Southern arrange an interview with bass player Grant Brand. I'm very grateful for this; RP have been pretty renowned for their lack of interviews (they only granted one at the time of Cacophony) so I go to great pains to arrive dead on time for this appointment. I have no idea what they even look like, so once at the venue, friend Grob has to point me in the right direction and finally I track Grant down... It turns out that he wants to do this interview on his own, straight away. The other two RP members won't want to talk, apparently, "they won't do any interviews at this moment". Now at this point, I'd like to stress that none of RP wwere in any way unfriendly, but they were definitely and quite peculiarly strange. There's no pretence, and it's no sham; it's they way they are. That being said, the interview proceeded pretty well, the only real problem being that I obviously hadn't heard any of the new material (RP had also decided that they didn't want to soundcheck for one reason or another, so I don't even get the chance to hear anything new at this point).

Whatever, the proceedings begin, and I first have to inquire about the various myths that have built up to surround Rudimentary Peni -in brief, I wanted to know basically what they had been up to over the years...

GRANT: Well, after the initial period, we originally kinda split up in 1982, for reasons that are very well documented -we did a Sounds interview where all that was explained- there was things to do with illnesses and stuff that I really don't want to go into again. So anyway, we came back together to do the Cacophony LP, recorded in 87 but released in 89. We then had, obviously, another lull of two or three years. Once again, there were various reasons for that, none of them particularly relevant, but then we finally got to the time when we all felt like doind another album, so we prepared and then went in to record the new one... With regards to the other projects, the drummer and I worked on another project with Steve Albini of Big Black, which was done in about 1990. We did the bass and drums; he was going to do the guitar and vocals... The tape of us was sent to him, but nothing more has been heard since. So, as to quite what has happened to that, you'd really have to ask him. But our side was actually completed, a whole album of just bass and drums. I've also heard rumours that there was supposed to be another record made before Cacophony that still hasn't been released, but that's not true. Betweeen Death Church and Cacophony, we did not record anything.

Whilst your recorded output over the years has been pretty minimal, your live appearances have been even more scarce... I believe you haven't played a gig since 1982, so why did you suddenly decide to do this show?

GRANT: Well basically, it was the guitarist. He just said he wanted to give it a go. I never had any great objections to playing live, so I said okay, let's give it a go. So there's nothing more mysterious than that, really, that's just why it was... Like, one of the reasons why we didn't play at the time of Cacophony was that a lot of material on that album would've been very difficult to reproduce live...Not all of it, I mean; there's some bits we'll be doing tonight, but that was part of the reason. Also, at that stage, the guitarist didn't want to do any live peformances. He has since changed his mind, and that's why, really. It's up to him; he's the one who has to be the frontman. It takes a lot of intensity to put all of that across, so whatever he wants to do, I'm happy with that, really.

I wanted to ask who writes the lyrics.

GRANT: In the old days, it used to be both me and the guitarist, but ever since Cacophony, it's been just the guitarist. He writes it all. Like, it was him who was very much into H.P. Lovecraft around the time of Cacophony. As far as subject matter for the new LP, it's really hard to sum up. There's all sorts of things on there, there's some recurring themes, but there's so much stuff and a lot of it is so weird... I think that it's probably better if people find out for themselves. I don't think it'll do to spell things out, or make them too obvious. I mean, when I used to write the political stuff in the 80s, I was obviously quite happy to sort of waffle on about that endlessly...

A lot of people still connect what you do with the early-80s Crass/Anarcho scene...

GRANT: Well, the first thing I have to point out is that the sort of political content of what we used to do was mainly due to me, far more so now than it was to the other two members of the band. I think that we are still political now, in a sense... I mean, as far as I'm concerned, when you're younger, you have a period of political idealism. But when you grow older, you realise things aren't so simple anymore, to be frank. I came to the conclusion I think throught the experience, being 28 now instead of 17 or whatever when I wrote those songs, that things or people just aren't like that, and they cannot be changed. Once you're convinced of that, you'd be a fool to carry on trying to change that. That's how I think now.

So, what would you say were the main motivations behing Rudimentary Peni now?

GRANT: I really don't know. I think if you're the sort of person who does music, and you continue to have the opportunity to do that, and you feel that what you've done is fairly unique, maybe compared to what some other people did, or that it has more depth and more to listen to, then it's worth continuing. And if you need that musical expression and you have the chance to do it, then why not? At least until you get fed up with it, and like, as we've had periods of years between each album, then we always come back to approach it from slightly different angles. Inspiration is something that builds up over a period of time, so by the time we come around to make new albums, it's all there. All the material, the ideas, which is better than just trying to grind on putting stuff out all the time. We will just put out a record when we want to, as opposed to just feeling obliged to turn out more product.

The artwork has always seemed to be an integral part of any Rudimantary Peni release...

GRANT: The new album will have a booklet of artwork with it, so if anything, we've actually increased that aspect. Yeah, it's important as long as it wants to be. If Nick wants to continue supplying the artwork, that's great, but if he turned around and said, "I don't want to provide any more artwork", than that'd still be okay. But I think it really complements everything else, and helps to make it more unique.

Your music has always been very unique, very separate to whatever else may have been going on in its contemporary music scene. How do you think it'll fare being performed in front of an audience for the first time in so long?

GRANT: Well, I think throughout the years, we have maintained a certain kind of sound. It's varied a bit, maybe gotten more complex and accomplished, it's been the same sort of sound sound or approach. So, I think both the old and new material is relevant to what we're doing now, but whether the audience will also think so, we'll find out later on. I also think our stuff sounds really good live. Our set tonight will include material from all eras of what we've done, from Death Church, Cacophony, and the new album, although it's like, when I go to gigs I hate it when a band will only plug their new album and you don't get to hear the older songs you might want to hear. As I've said, the audience may disagree with how we do things, but we'll just have to wait and see. Also, another reason for including older material in the set is, like, if it hasn't been played live for ten years, it's hardly as if people can complain they're sick of seeing it played. There's already talk of us doing more gigs, maybe in March when the new album comes out, but obviously the gigging experience is going to be pretty new to us again after ten years. I think it's going to be good, but we'll see how tonight goes.

There has always seemed to be a lot of interest in you from America.

GRANT: I think one of the reasons for this is because we've been able to provide a bit more than just the politics, or whatever. The impression I get is that Americans aren't political in the same way as Europeans, so a lot of bands that trot out the sort of same left-wing messages maybe won't mean so much to people in California, whereas maybe they go for our stuff because it's a lot more intense, a lot more eccentric, a lot more artistic... I think Americans like that; maybe that's why the Dead Kennedys were so successful, because there was so much more humour or theatre in what they did. I don't think Americans like stuff that's quite so serious, actually, there seems to be a need for some sort of humour or theatre in there. So, that may be one reason. Also, particularly in California, there always seems to be a lot of interest in the avant-garde in any area, and if what we provide is more extreme, more eccentric, it'll kind of appeal to that mentality. There has been talk of us going over to play in America, only vaguely, but once again we'll have to see how things go tonight before we can really consider it. I personally would not say no to a short trip, maybe... We have had some offers, but I don't know what it'd be like.

What kind of music do you listen to these days?

GRANT: Beyond the stuff we do, I don't really listen to rock bands at all. I really just listen to classical stuff... I think our drummer listens to rock bands, though I'm not quite sure. But I certainly don't sit down and listen to 'noise' bands, or whatever; I'm really not familiar with that stuff at all. I mean, when we first started, I suppose we were really influenced by the early punk bands, from the Sex Pistols through to Discharge, but by the time of Cacophony, we weren't really influenced by any rock bands. We were just doing whatever we wanted to do, you know? It was quite challenging... When you start listening to Bach or Vivaldi or Beethoven, or Oriental music, then you can't help but absorb some of those influences, and you'll start to think about timing, rhythm, chord structures, and stuff.

The title Cacophony always seemed to strike me as almost tongue-in-cheek, as if it was taunting the people that maybe wouldn't understand what you were trying to do.

GRANT: There was no particular reason other than from a musical point of view, on some of the tracks there's experimentation with dischord, and what are called tri-tones, which are a combination of notes which make particularly dark , grating sort of sounds. So yeah, it's kind of right in the way the title was sort of tongue-in-cheek.

From this point, have you actually got any plans for the band, or is everything rather vague until you've played this gig, and the next album is released?

GRANT: Well, the LP will come out some time next year, and all the old stuff is coming out on CD early next year, hopefully. I mean, it is all coming out, but exactly when, I don't know. As to new material, actually since we finished the last album I've been putting basslines down on tape just now and again, anything I feel happy with. So, I suppose at some point, that'll all come together to form a new album, but there's no firm plans for particular dates to do it. I don't feel there's any rush.

Hardly something Rudimentary Peni could ever be accused of, but at the same time, with the quality of music they do produce when they get around to it, we're hardly in a position to complain in the slightest! Having cleared up several things I'd wanted to know for a while, I figured this was an appropriate place to end our conversation, thanked Grant for his time, and departed to grab some curried munchies before the gig.

Show Review:

Even on a Sunday in such an awkward part of London, there's a high turn-out, and most of the interest seems to be in Rudimentary Peni (it was actually Citizen Fish who were headlining). But, there's several other bands to play first. Both Homage Freaks and Experiment are pretty dull, uninteresting rock, nothing really new. The recently reformed Dirt are more interesting, at least possessing some real energy in their guts. And finally, RP themselves. It's odd when they walk out on stage; the three figures look so out of place, dressed remarkably unremarkable and totally opposed to the punk rock legends they have become. They're noticably uneasy with the situation, Nick Blinko first repositioning the microphone stand further back away from the stage front, and then uttering his onlu between-song comment, "Silence!" before the band launch into the opening Cosmetic Plague. It sounds good, still as fresh and as energetic as when I first heard it. Things move along...there's a pretty bad sound mix at times, and the guitar seems to drop out altogether in places, but overall the set is fine, and the audience enjoyed it thoroughly. Old songs, newer songs, they all sound great, but it's a short set, maybe only half an hour, and then it's over. It's hard to tell how RP themselves viewed the proceedings, but hopefully it'll spur them on to further performances. The world needs them, even if it doesn't particularly deserve them...

The journey home is awkward and hectic; myself and friend Brian have to catch a taxi back to Victoria, in time for a last train only as far as Haversham, but it's certainly worthwhile. I may be totally wrecked by the time I reach work the next morning, but fuck it; everyone else can be as fresh and healthy as they want. They've never seen Rudimentary Peni, and I have!

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