Trough enemy lines
You can't make stuff like this up. A British band spend close to ten years together as the English Dogs, a spikey-haired, loyal-to-the-first-wave Punk unit, enjoying a prolific career abroad without any crossover success in the States. Suddenly, they feel the urge to grow, to expand their musical vision. The time has come to reinvent the band. They change their name to Janus Stark, redirect their musical gradient and score the ubiquitous, radio-friendly hit single, "Every Little Thing Counts." Thus we have what appears to be an "upstart band" who are, in reality, industry veterans. At the center of the whirlwind is Graham "Gizz" Butt (real name), who until recently was perhaps better known as the live guitarist for the phenomenally popular techno flavor-of-the-moment, the Prodigy (Gizz is credited with writing all the guitar parts for the Prodigy's Fat of the Land ) than for his own, accomplished past.
His partners on this very long and winding musical journey are Andrew "Pinch" Pinching on drums and Swapan "Shop" Nandi on bass. To take their artistic and professional path to the next level, they took the leap of faith together, and it appears their prayers have been answered by a benevolent god. In their reincarnation as Janus Stark, this high velocity trio churn out a flammable mixture of punk-drenched melodicore, alive with anthemic choruses that lend themselves well to football stadium-type chanting. The songs on Janus Stark's American debut, Great Adventure Cigar , tell the colorful story of the band's complex and entertaining history, but there's really no substitute for hearing these guys tell it themselves.
This interview, conducted in the cafeteria of the BMG building in Manhattan, has two distinctive chapters. Part one reveals a lighter side of the band, courtesy of Shop and Pinch. Part two delves into the more serious side of what Janus Stark is all about and what drives Gizz Butt to do what he does in the unique way he does it. Fasten seatbelts, please.
There are a lot of punk sensibilities on the record. The first song, "Enemy Lines," really reminds me of the Buzzcocks mixed with Black Flag.
Shop : I'd call the record a little more "rock punk" than "punk rock," do you know what I mean? That's the whole feeling of the record. It's more of an attitude. You don't necessarily have to play a-thousand-miles-an-hour music to have an attitude of punk rock.
I know the name Janus Stark is taken from a comic book character. What attracted you to that name?
Pinch : It was nothing to do with us, Gizz chose the name on his own, without even consulting us and we were just lumped with it.
Shop : He says positively. It is a good name. We've all managed to get our own meanings from it, but basically we had a thousand names to chose from. Gizz had an interview live on Radio One -- which is like a mega-thing -- for the middle of the afternoon, on a show called Drive Time. There's millions of people listening to it. They said "What's the name of your new band?" and he was all "Ahhh, Janus Stark." After awhile, we got into what the character was and what he was all about.
And what is he all about?
Shop : He was from another dimension. He was similar to Spider-Man. The public didn't really like him and the government didn't really like him, but he went ahead an did his Superhero stuff anyway, regardless, cause he was pigheaded.
He was the Anti-Superhero.
Shop : Yeah, and he dressed quite smartly, like a cross between James Bond circa 1965 and Bruce Lee. So he was quite a cool character, had nice taste in clothes. [Laughs]
The record is called Great Adventure Cigar , and I guess you're aware that the image of the cigar has taken on quite an interesting meaning here in America these past few months, owing to our President.
Pinch : The LP's title was picked about a year and a half ago, or probably longer, [and] the LP was recorded well over a year ago. So, it's just pure coincidence that a cigar has been on a great adventure in the President's office. The actual line that the title comes from is a Wu-Tang Clan song called "Projects." He's describing his dick as a "Great Adventure Cigar." It was just [chosen] out of all these massive lists of titles. As soon as I saw Great Adventure Cigar , I went "That's it!"
Shop : We had loads of serious, pretentious titles, but that one made me laugh and I thought, if it makes me laugh it'll make everyone else laugh.
I noticed the cover art also is one of those Tamagotchis, but with a person on it. What is the significance of that?
Shop : It's signifying The Musician, that their very basic needs musicians need to survive on [are] sleep, food, drugs and money, I think. That's all it is.
Pinch : And, obviously, we hope that in the near future there will be a fantastic product spin-off (laughs) of Tamagotchis, which of course we will license and make a fortune from.
I think those are the weirdest things. If you can't keep a little battery operated game-based pet alive, how are you going take care of yourself?
Shop : The whole idea is [the child] gets something like that and if they can learn to look after that when they're really young, then the parents feel they're okay to buy them a kitten or a dog or something.
Pinch : Is that why they do it?
Shop : Yeah, that's the whole idea of it. Like, I've got an Aunt, right? She's about in her mid-forties and she's quite eccentric, in the sense that she never grew up. She's got a whole family of Tamagotchis, sitting on a shelf. At the end of the day she rushes in from work, "Oh my god, I've got to feed them!" [laughs] It's taken over her life.
That's pretty funny. But in a way it's...
Shop : Very sad.
Yeah, it's very sad, but it would make a good plot for a short horror story, where they come alive and they get her, or something. Well, do you know how the song "Every Little Thing Counts" was picked up to be on the Disturbing Behavior soundtrack record?
Pinch : Yeah, it was [because of] Gizz's publishing company, BMG. They got involved with [the person who] was compiling the soundtrack for Disturbing Behavior . He got the track sent over on a Janus Stark cassette, [but] it wasn't our song on the cassette, it was somebody else's who thought "Oh, here you go, a chance to get our song in a film!" So he heard it and he just thought "What's this pile of crap? This is no good for the film." And we thought "What's wrong with it?" "It's this slow, dirgey rock ballad." "Well, you must have the wrong song. We'll send you the whole album." So they sent him the whole album to listen to and he loved it. He thought "Every Little Thing Counts" was great for the film, but Trauma also loved the whole record, so that's why they licensed us.
photo by Bob Berg
L-R: Shop, Gizz Butt, Pinch
Pinch : Welcome to New York. The tape's rolling, so no yawning.
Gizz : Sorry, rough night. There's some [construction] going on next door to the hotel and I just can't sleep. It's called Le Moderne. It's so modern it hasn't even been built yet.
We're just covering the basics here, how much the album rocks and stuff about the name of the band. I'd like to ask you about something you said in another interview, that you were afraid people might accuse you of losing your integrity because you are now doing this sort of pop music. What exactly did you mean by that statement?
Gizz : I don't really want people to think that we're losing our integrity, but if they want to think that, they'll think it anyway, regardless. If that's going to be their mind-set, then they'll just go that way and we'll have to wave good-bye to each other. I've thought about this over and over again and I'm not going to get stressed out about it. People want to think "Oh, the three of them have gone off into Pop Music," but I think that it's much more broader than that. Pop music is just such a shallow term. I think that what we do is rock and roll. It's got a gritty vibe to it.
We were discussing how it's got a punk attitude, even if some of the songs are not punk.
Gizz : I used to be into the writings of [this particular journalist] in the UK. She's written books all about punk and [she] was interested in the way punk actually influenced other people, which is what I'm interested in. If you've come from a different background or a different form of music, punk touched you anyway. For instance, artists, writers, other bands, different forms of music certainly got harder or got a bit more of an attitude or an angle [because of] what was going on at that time.
Is this philosophy something you deal with in the song "Enemy Lines"?
Gizz : "Enemy Lines" was basically a stab at another journalist, I can't remember his name. He wrote for Melody Maker , and had reviewed a Rancid gig. It was very typical for Melody Maker to not acknowledge the importance that Punk Rock had when it came out, and how it affected everything around it. Rancid did this gig in a place called the Underworld in London. It was a blinding gig, it was great. Loads of people from all over [the] UK that used to go to English Dogs shows, they were all there, all getting sweaty together. Then the next day you open up Melody Maker and it just wrote the gig off. They just said it was irrelevant. The words (to "Enemy Lines") go "If you say we're irrelevant, totally insignificant/ If we're so fucking full of shit, how come it feels so right?" It's just like, if you know, [in] what you're doing, that the integrity is there, someone can say anything they want. I just find it a bit disturbing that these 15, 16 and 17 year olds can read it and believe that's gospel, 'cause it's not.
I want to ask you one question about your involvement with the Prodigy. Now, you get this gig touring with them as their live guitarist, you're not really an official member of the band.
Gizz : Right.
And you're playing these huge, huge football stadiums and getting all this press and you're on the cover of all these magazines. Then you go back home and do your own thing -- your own music -- with this band and are virtually ignored. What's that like?
Gizz : Well, I can look back now, because I've learned what the score is. But at the time I was like, inside, my emotions were conflicting with each other a little bit. It was difficult to deal with, just because I didn't know what was happening. I can look back at it in a much more reflective way now, now that we're doing Janus Stark. Let's say in five years time that we decide to get another member on board and we've done five years work, five years worth of building up to a certain level. You know, where you start off at a level where you're in a transit band, doing a tour, to where you get to the level where you [travel from] gig to gig on a plane, because you've been fighting for it. Then, along come all those things you've fought for. See, [this new guy] isn't going to come in and get on my level straight away. I can understand it. So, it was up to them, if they wanted to let me in more than [they did] then that's up to them.
Still, it must have been a positive experience overall.
Gizz : Oh it was. One of the things is, [from] doing that I've seen life from like a higher level, so I can ask for things and expect them.
I can see how you could bring those sensibilities to your own project.
Shop : One of the things you maybe didn't see [if you weren't into the music] was how the Prodigy brought all of these different people together, which I think is actually the most important thing.
Gizz : I think that the Prodigy did it in the coolest way. You could look out into that crowd and there'd be male, female, long hair, short hair, black, white, every single different kind of person in the world is there. I think that's the best thing [they do].
Shop : You can't stand at the back at a Prodigy gig. You've got to be there!
The song "Floyd What are You On?" reminds me of a Pixies song, in a way. What's that song about?
Gizz : [Quoting lyrics] "Take that jacket off your back/ Cause I don't like what I see. You've associated us with suspect company." Alright, so you know when punk bands write their names on the backs of jackets? This guy wrote me a letter saying he'd seen English Dogs written on the back of someone's jacket. This was at the time when we were thinking of changing our name because English Dogs wasn't cool anymore, it was getting too much associated with saturated, worn-out, old, sort of aggressive, skin-head dumbos, and that's just not us. We were getting a bit torn because we found it quite difficult to change, but we knew it wasn't going to work with that name. So, we got sent this letter: "I've seen English Dogs on the back of someone's jacket. I've also seen Screwdriver..." -- who are like a really horrific, right wing band. That was just like, oh God, people are going to start associating us with stuff like that. We knew then that we had to change our name. It just so happened that, [on] that day, I bumped into an old friend called Floyd, and I was like "Floyd, what are you on?" 'cause he just looked such a mess. It just all came together in one song, which is telling the story of this guy -- but it wasn't [about] Floyd. It was just his bad luck that he was there on that day.
Two things, not related, that somehow come together to make a really fun song!
Pinch : It could have been called "Algernon, What Are You On?"
Please explain the lyrics to the song "Clique," specifically the line that goes "The sleeping will always get their eyebrows shaved."
All : [laughing] Oh, that's brilliant!
It's a great line.
Gizz : It's one of the funniest things, I love that. When I got married to Tracey, on my stag night, we went and had an incredible night. On the way back -- we'd taken enough alcohol and drugs to kill a whole army of elephants -- this guy, a friend of ours from Petersborough, he fell asleep in the back of the bus. So, Pinch -- because Pinch is probably the cruelest out of all of us -- he gets the shaving foam, onto the eyebrows, out comes the razor [mimes shaving someone's eyebrows off, with sound effects].
Pinch : It's happened loads of times. It's become a tradition.
So it's like a rite of passage, to be missing your eyebrows?
Pinch : Yeah, especially when you do the inside of one and the outside of the other.
Another song, a great song is, "White Man Speak with Fork Tongue." Was that inspired by Queen's song "White Man"? Cause they sound kind of similar. It's also got a heavy metal vibe to it, with the big-chord riffs.
Gizz : I do like some heavy metal stuff, but to me it's all rock and roll, anyway. Heavy Metal's just like a really bad name. Originally, it was supposed to be a good name, in the late '60s, and it just ended up getting associated with Motley Crue, which I detest. I detest all of those kind of bands, Quiet Riot, Wasp. I absolutely detest them, you know, with a vengeance
I get it, you've made your point.
Gizz : And "White Man Speak With Fork Tongue" is against racism, you can tell that. It's got that line "Fasten your seat belts/ pick your sides/ before you take off on words that take you for a ride." It's almost like the "Enemy Lines" thing again. People will tell you stuff, and you will absorb it and believe it, but you must question it first. For instance, when I hear people trying to tell me that there's something genuinely wrong with black people, that they're bad people...[I think] no, no no. I just know some people who are inherently stupid and racist and I just don't bother talking to them. If you've got people like that around you, just get them out. Put them out of your life. 'Cause you might not be able to change them, but if you can, try and explain to them that what they're saying is just so stupid.
Right on. Okay, well one last question which I really must ask. Were you tortured mercilessly as a child, growing up with the last name of Butt?
Gizz : In America it's much worse than what it is in Britain. I got tortured but nowhere near what I would have got if I'd lived here. In England, you have, like, a sandwich, which is called a 'botty.' So, I was just called every flavor sandwich under the sun, you know "cheese botty." In England, a butt is like the end of a cigarette or the harder end of an object. Whereas, over here it's just, like, your ass."
Proving that lightning can indeed strike twice, "Every Little Thing Counts" has also found a home on the soundtrack to the film, Varsity Blues.