If you’ve ever complained about modern bands not getting stuck into politics, you need to listen to Abattoir Blues. The Brighton-based band aren’t shy when it comes to writing about the issues facing society, as evidenced on the b-side of their new single. “Insults are all you’re breathing/Lies are your currency,” growls frontman Harry Waugh on ‘Fading’, a monstrous bed of stormy guitars adding to his anger about people’s attitudes to the current migrant crisis.
Though it was written a year ago, it’s frighteningly become even more relevant in recent months with Brexit and the subsequent rise in reports of racial discrimination and hatred. We caught up with Waugh to talk the song’s origins, politics and more.
‘Sense’/’Fading’ is your first physical release and the first time you recorded in a proper studio. Did you feel like a proper band?
Harry Waugh: “Yeah, it felt like we were actually a band and not just idiots messing around. Sometimes when you’re recording with friends you don’t want to press them to finish it. You’d be sat with each other and at the back of your mind it’s like ‘fuck sake, why aren’t you working on my song?’ That’s silly, obviously, cos it’s your mate who’s doing you a favour. It was really nice doing it and actually spending the whole time doing it. I remember when Gus [Taylor, The Magic Gang] was in the band and he spent the whole day putting off recording vocals and we ended up having to do it at 2am, and we had to send off the recordings the next day. This was definitely more proper.
“Every other release we’ve done has been on a compilation or on something with other people so this is the first physical release we’ve done [of our own]. It seems mad because the songs are quite old, but it’s nice to have them out. I think now we’ve got the ball rolling with one, as soon as we release it, it’ll be easier to kick ourselves into doing more.”
How old are these songs?
“‘Sense’ is the first song we wrote when the band properly started, when George [Boorman, guitarist] started. That was almost three years ago. That’s a weird one because the lyrics to it and the way it works as a song have evolved a lot over the years. ‘Fading’ we wrote almost a year ago about the migrant crisis. I felt really strange and sad about because, when I wrote it, I thought the attitude to refugees couldn’t get much worse and the way that people were scapegoating them couldn’t get much worse. But it’s only getting worse and worse so I think if I’d written that song now the lyrics would be even more sad and depressed.”
Have you changed ‘Fading’ at all given recent events?
“No. We recorded it in May so that was just before Brexit. It’s all about this idea of people being set against each other, rather than actually looking at the real problems that are there that are caused by an actual political system. So it’s the idea that it suits those in power for us to be blaming problems capitalism caused on refugees rather than actual injustices that are keeping it alive. The lyrics that we had feel like they could be sadder now, but the main premise of it is the same and I feel the same way. You see people literally spreading lies and insulting other humans and taking away their humanity. The saddest thing is that a lot of these people that have [those opinions] are obviously completely alienated and disassociated from society and that’s what’s making them search for someone to blame, and because of what’s being put it front of them they’re blaming the wrong person. It’s quite clear that these people feel disenfranchised and that’s how hate like this can breed.”
Yeah, despite those opinions obviously being wrong, the people holding them aren’t necessarily inherently bad.
“Yeah, and it’s hard to say that. Part of why ‘Fading’ was written was because at the time I worked with a lot of people who would constantly make racist jokes and saw awful things about what they thought should happen to refugees. But then I also saw this human side to those people. It was hard not to be frustrated by them and not hate going to work cos I knew they were going to be spouting off their rubbish at me. I think the problem of racism is obviously a much deeper and much more rooted political problem. The sad thing is it has a function, which is to set people against each other.”
How important is it to you as a band to be writing about these issues?
“I’ve got weird feelings about that because I feel like everyone should be talking about those things, but also sometimes it can be weird when you see a band and they’ve got that attitude that because they’re in a band their fans should believe what they believe. I think it’s important that people talk about stuff and as a band we feel that way and my lyrics are an outlet for thinking about those things, but I don’t want to be like ‘think what I think’. The role of music should always be to encourage debate. I think you should always be political, but I have a problem with people being preachy even though there’s certain things I think every band should be fighting for or talking about. But I understand why people wouldn’t want to. We all care about that stuff and we’re going to write about it in songs because that’s what we’re talking about and thinking about.”
On the other side of things, ‘Sense’ is a lot more personal and about the cycle of depression.
“Yeah, that’s another thing that permeates all our songs. It starts off talking about not understanding how you feel or why you feel that way. The chorus is “You’re always falling deeper, you’re always feeling weaker/Didn’t you see the sun go? Never forget your window” It’s finally having a feeling where someone reaches out to you and you can feel them there, because a lot of the time you can feel completely like no one is there even though they’re right in front of you. Having that moment of human connection with someone, they make it apparent to you that there is light and there is hope. Even though you’ve had that you can slip back into feeling like nothing will ever be OK. It’s all about how the whole thing can be a learning process and every bad period I’ve had and people I know have had has always taught me something else or helped them understand themselves more.”
Is songwriting something that you find helps you through those bad periods?
“Yeah definitely. Writing lyrics is something that everyone who does it always talks about how it helps them understand themselves. I can write a lyric and not be sure what it’s about and then it’ll end up helping me understand something I was worrying about. Also the process of writing a song with four of my best friends and seeing that come into something that’s an expression of everyone’s feelings and knowing that other people in the band find it to be a helpful vehicle as well for similar things, it’s a really nice and amazing thing. Regardless of how empty you feel, it will always make you feel some kind of emotion, which is nice.”
Abattoir Blues support The Big Moon at London’s Scala tonight (November 3) and support The Wytches later this month. Visit their Facebook for more info.