“I was in Panama at Tribal Gathering in the middle of a jungle, surrounded by naked people on acid, in the middle of the most beautiful place that you could possibly imagine, having the time of my life,” Dub Pistols frontman Barry Ashworth tells NME, recalling the happier times of earlier in 2020. “Then all of a sudden the military turned up due to COVID. I decided there and then to get a taxi straight to the airport and get the last flight back.”
Just like the rest of us, Dub Pistols’ plans for one hell of a year were flushed down the toilet. As favourites on the festival circuit, Ashworth is really feeling the pain of not being able to tour. Still, it’s not the first time the band have had to fight back from adversity. As the band debut the video for ‘Dark Days Dark Times’, the frontman spoke to NME about new album ‘Addict’, an upcoming documentary detailing their colourful past of drugs, destruction and serial killers – as well as holding a mirror up to these dumpster fire times we’re living in.
Hello Barry. How’s 2020 treating you?
Barry: “Well, we had the most amazing year lined up, the most amazing festival season, two UK tours, a European tour, releasing the album and doing our own festival. Having taken so long to rebuild ourselves into a position of strength, it’s a lot to take in. We have this documentary coming out called What Could Possibly Go Wrong. The end of the documentary was us finally having fucked everything up as much as we possibly could and turned it around into a fantastic success, but then COVID meant that the ending had to change.”
Fitting that the documentary is called What Could Possibly Go Wrong, isn’t it?
“Yes. It was at 9/11 when it started to go wrong for us. 9/11 was when we were originally meant to launch the album and our own festival, but it’s gone completely tits up again. There is no happy ending! We had a massive deal with Geffen, the biggest record label in the world and we were their priority. Then 9/11 happened, with its devastating global effects and changing the world. That meant our album didn’t come out for two years. Our attitude back then was sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and we lived that to the maximum of every bad cliche that you could possibly imagine. We became addicted to everything and tried as hard as we could to fuck everything up. One of the shows in the documentary is at Bestival where we got to close after The Prodigy. It was after a string of bad times, I pulled my trousers down and just shouted, ‘Why don’t you just fuck me up the arse?’ to 50,000 people, played the same song twice and fucked off.”
That’s quite a lot for a documentary to cover – drugs, destruction, 9/11, COVID…
“Don’t forget insulting whole nations, getting thrown out of countries, serial killers… I won’t go into that one too much to save giving away part of the plot. None of the band are serial killers, but there was an incident with a coach driver on a UK tour… It’s a no-holds barred, honest account of what it’s like to be in a band. One minute you have everything, then nothing. It goes through the friendships, punch-ups on stage, the works. We did everything. I just didn’t realise at the time that it wasn’t what a modern A&R man wanted. Back then, it was what was expected – but you realise that you become a liability after a while.”
When did things start to change and look a little brighter?
“We were partying more than we were performing, and it was at that point that someone said to me, ‘Barry, if you’re not enjoying it then stop’. I took a long, hard look at myself, we took some point out, some of the boys went into rehab, some of the boys left, and within two years we’d turned around and started winning awards for being the best live band. It was a turning point, and it takes a while to change the perception when you’re more known for your partying than you are for your music. ”
How would you say your approach to life changed on the writing of ‘Addict’?
“It’s the strongest piece of work we’ve ever done, but you always have to believe that. It was written over two or three years when I probably wrote about three albums. I could have put out a dub album and a drum n’ bass album. I was recording so many different songs with so many different people. We’re on our eighth album now and free from being pigeonholed because we’ve done it for so long. We can go on different journeys. Slowly our sound has come home, but we’ve been everywhere in making that.”
Lyrically, what’s the record dealing with?
“I remember after 9/11 and our album ‘Six Million Ways To Live’ was quite political without trying to be political. That came back to bite us on the arse, so I tried to stay away from that for the next few albums. Without realising, I came back to focussing more on what was going on in the world. We released a single called ‘Stand Together’ with Rhoda Dakar the week of George Floyd’s death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. That record at that time suddenly took on a more meaningful and positive message. If you write about history, it will catch up with you. The album was originally going to be called ‘Dark Days, Dark Times’.”
Is there a message to the album?
“It’s just an observation rather than a message. Some of them are just pure up party tunes. ‘Stand Together’ has a message, and the lyrics that Rhoda wrote for that couldn’t be more important. What is the message at the moment? I’d love to sit here and say I’m full of hope, but we don’t know which way we’re going.”
Are you optimistic about the future?
“I’m probably the most positive person you’ll ever meet – a cheeky ‘I can’t believe I’m getting away with this’ type, but recently felt like the first time where I felt paralysed in the mind and couldn’t string a sentence together at the hopelessness of it all. COVID was bad enough, but seeing racism and the darker side of people become so visible really brought me down. I went into myself and couldn’t talk to anyone. Even though I’m patron of this TONIC mental health charity, I recognised that to suddenly feel so completely useless is a horrible, horrible feeling.”
— Tonic Music for Mental Health (@TonicMusicMH) September 16, 2020
What can you tell us about what your work with TONIC?
“It’s a great charity. I’m a patron along with Terry Hall from The Specials. They do much great work with music and mental health and they’re so passionate about what they do. I’ve managed to get Bez [Happy Mondays] to do this Flying Circus thing. I’m hoping we’ll raise £50,000 for them. It’s been obvious what’s happening with mental health. Male suicide is at a 20-year high and I don’t think we’ve seen the tip-of-the-iceberg with that. Plus all these charities have lost their income. We need to do all we can to help.”
So you’re doing a wing-walk with Bez? That’s terrifying.
“I kinda like that, though. That’s the thrill-seeker in me. This time I’m going to do a loop-de-loop and a 360 spin.”