Some people claim politics and music shouldn’t mix, but those people are, quite frankly, stupid. From The Clash to Propagandhi, some of the best music has been written with politically-minded lyrics, and have influenced many people along the way.
Undeniably though, it’s hard to pull off, but in Crazy Arm, the UK has a band that can write an excellent rock song and affix thought-provoking socio-political themes to it. There’s more to the band than that though – we spoke to vocalist, guitarist and banjo player Darren Johns about the band’s ups and downs, the country’s biggest political threat and a future tour to South Korea…
Your music style is relatively unique. How would you personally describe it? What are the band’s inspirations and why did you/the band choose to play this particular kind of music?
Thanks! I call it punk-roots; all the loudness and anger of punk rock with all the nuance and compassion of folk-roots. Well, that’s what it means to me. Musically, it’d be criminal not to mention the affect that Wovenhand, Fugazi, Murder By Death and Ted Leo have had on Crazy Arm. We didn’t set out to play this music, we started off as a kind of Dischord-style post-hardcore trio. Then I brought my acoustic guitar along to a practice and the rest is history.
What topics are important for you to cover with your lyrics and why?
Depression, neurosis, survival, anarchism, class war, feminism, society, community, love, psychology and ethics – because that’s what my life is about.
How much change do you think a band can bring about with their lyrics?
None on a global scale. Actions change things, words merely articulate the process. On a personal level however, all kinds of change, specifically one’s relationship with the rest of the world. But it’s rare for one band to make that much difference, it’s more a culmination of lots of good wordsmiths who can shape and inspire. Crass were an exception, of course. They changed thousands of people’s lives single-handedly.
Who/what do you think is the biggest political threat to the UK at the moment?
The political establishment, as always. Especially the Tories, as always. UKIP will, one would hope, drown in their own xenophobic bile like all the upstart far/right parties before and after them, but the Tories leave their filthy fingerprints on everything from dismantling the NHS and scrapping hard-won welfare rights to tax cuts for the rich and austerity measures aimed squarely at the poor. Their ideological assault on the working class hasn’t changed since the 1800s. Scummy neo-Nazi groups like Britain First come and go but the established parties fuck us over forever.
What are the biggest challenges to being in a band?
Feeling that we deserve better after all this time is something that I find myself thinking a lot, but then I’m prone to self-loathing so it’s par for the course. Unfortunately, the music biz isn’t a meritocracy so I should just get over it. Other than that, I find living out of a van with four or five or six other people a constant challenge. I love my personal space. I hate it being invaded. Touring is all about invading each other’s space and not succumbing to physical or mental violence. As well as that, this band has been through a lot of changes over the past 18 months so it’s been difficult to maintain morale sometimes. We’re still here!
What have been the best experiences of the band to date?
Great tours with Against Me!, Chuck Ragan, Apologies I Have None, Bangers and Larry & His Flask; releasing three albums that I’m very proud of; playing awesome festivals and wonderful cities around Europe and the UK; meeting lovely people in all those places; being told your music makes a difference to people’s lives; and enjoying positive reviews from around the world. It’s all good.
And the worst?
There are things I could mention but can’t and won’t – it would open a messy can of worms. Other than that, descending into depression while on tour is pretty horrible. As all bands will attest, some shows are just the pits – morale-sapping fucking nightmares. You just have to let it pass. And we’ve had some near-death experiences on the road, as most bands have – a tyre blow-out on the autobahn springs to mind. And suffering negative reviews from around the world. It’s all bad.
How do you feel the music scene has changed since the band’s inception? Do you think it’s harder for bands to ‘get noticed’? And to be able to sustain a typical touring/releasing music schedule?
There are so many bands out there it’s certainly hard to immediately stand out, unless you have a shitty gimmick or ‘nutty’ singer, but good music finds a way. It’s never been easy to sustain the demands of the industry, which is why we have kind of side-stepped it all, but the tour/release cycle depends on a band’s ambitions. Some can make it a lifestyle, others dip in and out. The internet has changed the parameters as to how and when to deliver recorded music to people but, to me, live music will always be where it matters.
In an ideal world, are there any particular things you would like the band to do?
We’re currently trying to sort out a tour of South Korea, which we’re pretty excited about, and the US is still in the pipeline, although people are probably fed up with me saying that in interviews. I’d love the band to be touring the world and releasing records in different territories through labels that really care about us. But that involves a lot of work, so we’d need to rise to the challenge.
And in the real world – what does the rest of the year have in store for Crazy Arm?
A Europe jaunt in October with a couple shows supporting Boysetsfire. Can’t wait. And South Korea, fingers crossed. And getting stuck into writing our fourth album, which should be out next year, more fingers crossed.
– Andrew Cream
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