INTERVIEW: Interrobang‽ | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s more than three years since I was lucky enough to hear the demos for the debut album from Leeds/Brighton agit punk trio Interrobang‽ (which got a digital release late last year, when I described it in NARC. as ‘sharp, snappy, sub three-minute bursts of energy…thoughtful, emotive reflections on what it is to grow old, and how it feels to be a middle-aged revolutionary with a fire in your belly that no amount of Gaviscon can ease’). Even for a band desperate to get everything just right, that’s one hell of a gestation period, so I kicked off my long, frank, endlessly entertaining chat with Dunstan Bruce by asking what the hell took so long?

“We spent about a year or so playing live, we really wanted to play live. I’ve always done stuff where I think the live experience is far more visceral than listening to anything on record, that’s always been my experience and I’ve always thought that about Chumbawamba [Bruce’s former band] as well,” Bruce explains. “Interrobang‽’s lyrical content is a complete baring of souls. I like to touch people and I like to SEE the response, whereas you can’t watch everyone listening to your album. So we took a long time getting the songs to the point where we thought ‘Right, we can go into the studio now’. And it’s just one of those things – I live in Brighton, Harry [Hamer, drums] and Griff [Stephen Griffin, guitars] live in Leeds, we’re all involved in other projects, other things that we’re doing. Initially I was MASSIVELY frustrated that it was taking so long, but in the end it didn’t really matter… we’ve put so much care and attention into what we’re doing that hopefully this tour and album will be proof of it all.“ Indeed, with the physical album released this month through All The Madmen and this current tour being their biggest yet, I think the band see this as a fresh start.

Starting at the bottom again after comparative success with Chumbawamba seems to have been a positive experience. “What has been really lovely has been the amount of love – and I guess I would see it as forgiveness! – for once signing to a major label. And it’s been remarkable the amount of goodwill we’ve found, particularly in organising this tour. I’ve done it all myself and it was brilliant getting back in touch with that world, with passionate promoters who are just really up for taking a risk on us. Also, for each show we’re connecting with a local charity and asking people to bring along clothes or food for a food bank or homeless charity. The way promoters have embraced that idea has been really heart-warming.”

the fact that we’re trying to engage and be active in some way is a really important part of what we’re doing

Even for someone as irrepressible and full of compassion as Bruce, he seems especially energised about things at the moment. “I’ve become obsessed with this Howard Zinn quote which I have up in my bathroom, which is ‘We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.’

“That idea is totally propelling me forward through all this, the idea that we can’t just go out and do a rock ’n’ roll tour and just be a band; in this day and age it just seems like a wasted opportunity, and the fact that we’re trying to engage and be active in some way is a really important part of what we’re doing.”

This clearly extends to choosing the support bands for the tour, where the band were keen to have as many women involved as possible. “Over the last couple of years, one thing that has inspired me more than anything else is Cassie Fox setting up Loud Women [a DIY live collective promoting women in music]. She’d never been in a band until she was in her thirties, she’d never even considered being in a band. And she’s set up this whole organisation, this amazing thing, that’s just completely inspiring, and she’s done it just with passion and belief. The rock ’n’ roll world is completely skewed towards men and what she’s doing at a grassroots level is brilliant. I don’t want to go on tour and it just be a man-fest every night, it just didn’t feel right. I’d spent all my previous time in a band with really strong, opinionated women.”

The album’s lengthy birth made me wonder whether it feels odd singing any of those deeply personal songs now, with their lyrics about old age and fear and ill health and loss. “A lot of those lyrics were written when I was in a really dark place,” admits Bruce. “And they really reflect that. But now, when I get up on stage and perform those lyrics, part of me thinks, ‘Actually this isn’t me now!’ Thanks to writing those lyrics and turning them into songs, I’ve worked my way through that whole thing and I feel I’ve kind of come out the other side, to a large degree, so it feels like theatre: I’m getting on stage to be the 52-year old Dunstan Bruce, who is this grumpy curmudgeon who doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life. And I like getting into that zone. At the beginning of the set, as soon as I stand in front of that audience and I put that megaphone to my mouth, I just think ‘right, here we go, you’re about to be Dunstan Bruce of Interrobang‽ now’.”

Interrobang‽’s self-titled album is released by this month by All The Madmen Records. They play Newcastle’s Cluny on Thursday 5th and Middlesbrough’s Westgarth Social Club on Saturday 7th April (with an instore at Sound It Out Records at 3pm).

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