1 Jun 2017

HUMAN PARASITES: A chat with depraved art-punks LICE

Bristol band LICE have been cropping up all over London recently, and for good reason. Their live shows brim with bloodthirsty, shamanic performances, whilst choppy, searing instrumentation sets them way above the Fall comparisons people make. Garnering fans across the city have taken them in as part of the emerging crop of amazing bands springing up over London, (Charlie from Shame said “of course LICE are part of the scene” when I interviewed them earlier this month for CLASH) they’re a band with so much potential to unleash great song after great song of obnoxious, misanthropic, ugly social commentary.

Catch up first by reading our review of their single, Human Parasite, right now. 

Can you tell me a bit about the beginnings of the band?
ALASTAIR: We all met while studying at Bristol University; Silas and Gareth met at a house party, then advertised for a vocalist on the Facebook page for the University’s ‘Live Music Society’. I replied, we met at a pub (where they told me they’d already interviewed another vocalist but binned him because he was ‘too good at singing’), then they took me back to Silas’ house where they got me to read aloud from one of Silas’ books while they played me a couple of the songs they’d been working on. Bruce, who Garth had become friends with on a summer work placement, joined the band later to replace our original drummer after he moved away, and it’s been the four of us ever since.

How long have you been playing together?
ALASTAIR: We have been practicing in some form or other since the start of 2015, but the turning point where we actually started taking it seriously was our first DIY show at The Crofters Rights that December; after months of unsuccessfully trying to book support slots, we finally realised you can just put on shows yourself and it’s about the most fun you can have as a band. That coincided with our old drummer moving away and Bruce replacing him; we started practicing in his basement (where we’d later record Nutmilk) and putting on our own nights at small venues around Bristol. In this incarnation with Brucey then, it’s been about a year and a half.

You play a lot of shows with the best bands upcoming in London, despite not being from there. Do you feel more of an affinity with this scene than the one local to you?
ALASTAIR: We love being part of this London community, but we still identify principally as a Bristol band. Bristol’s home to this incredibly eclectic but tight-knit artistic community, which has been hugely inspiring to us and which I’ve spent a lot of my own time trying to publicise through online documentaries and radio work; people like the Howling Owl and Breakfast Records lot, Van Zeller, The Karma Repair Kit etc. have given us a real family here. However, in London, it feels like something similar has happened; there’s this incredible, welcoming community of artists like Shame, Sorry, Dead Pretties etc., who, with The Windmill as their lynchpin, have helped establish this very inclusive and rich ’scene’. They’ve welcomed us as one of their own, they and Campbell Baum’s Black Cat White Cat are the only reason we now get to play in London, and they’ve always made us feel at home here, for which we’re very grateful.

What’s your favourite show you’ve played so far? Who’s the best band you’ve played with?
SILAS: Bo Gritz
ALASTAIR: My favourite overall show is Howling Owl’s ‘New Year: New Noise’ Festival at The Arnolfini Art Gallery back in January. We supported Girl Band along with an experimental noise/electronic producer called Silver Waves, a sort of performance/drag artist called ‘johnsmith’, and a collaboration of Young Echo’s Vessel and Chester Giles called ASDA. Best overall ‘band’ we’ve played with in my book is Giant Swan, a duo who use a microphone run through old guitar pedals (accrued from 13 years in their main band The Naturals) to make improvised industrial techno; best live band I know.

I think similar to Goat Girl and Shame, your music is part of a wave of young band’s influenced increasingly heavily by The Fall, Gun Club & Country Teasers. Are these fair comparisons?
ALASTAIR: In our case those early influences were down to Silas, who grew up having been introduced to these artists and basically got the rest of us into them. Ben Wallers has influenced most of my lyrics so far, and my vocal delivery was hugely inspired by Mark E. Smith, but while I wear those influences on my sleeve, the other guys have gradually developed them influences in more imaginative ways and moved away from them; I’ll probably end up making some stylistic changes of my own in the near future.
SILAS: These comparisons are inevitable due to Alastair’s vocal style, and fair as there is clear similarity between LICE and The Fall and The Country Teasers. The only real constant in the band is Alastair though; as we write more and more and the influence of different members with differing music tastes becomes clearer, musically these comparisons become less apt.

Country Teasers or not, there’s still a definite Americana feel to some of your songs, why is that?
SILAS: Listening to Ry Cooder soundtracks, Gareth owned a harmonica, when you’re playing music together in a room and don’t expect to ever play a gig or release a song laziness prevails and you start messing around with slide guitars and chatting about Cowboys.

The first thing you put out was the depraved demo album Nutmilk; can you tell me a bit about the record & the songs on it? 
ALASTAIR: We didn’t have any usable demos and didn’t feel ready to invest in proper studio recordings, so we got cheap, second-hand recording equipment and soundproofing, set it up in our drummer Bruce’s basement (which is also where we practice), and over the space of a few days last summer recorded those songs with our friend Oscar Hesmondhalgh. Coincidentally, a guy in London called Charlie Williams got in touch around then and asked if we had any recordings which we’d be interested in releasing on cassette; without asking anything in return he made a run of cassettes and helped us get them heard in London, for which we are eternally grateful. Those songs are quite different now, particularly lyrically (the lyrics on Stammering Bill are basically all different now), but we’re proud of how they turned out despite how unbelievably shit our setup was.

What’s your favourite LICE track and why? 
ALASTAIR: At the moment The Pervert Endeavour, the B-side for The Human Parasite. It’s my new favourite lyrically, it really showcases Bruce’s versatility as a drummer, and Silas makes some fucking harrowing sounds in the instrumental bit in the middle.

Can you tell us a bit about your new single ‘The Human Parasite’?
ALASTAIR: Charlie, who released Nutmilk, has since started a label called Big Score with Milo Ross; our single was their first release, and has just been followed by the excellent single My Headache Likes to Speak from one of our favourite bands, YOWL. The Human Parasite and its B-side The Pervert Endeavour are two of our most recent songs musically, and I wrote the lyrics with the fact these songs would be our first single in mind. Both songs deal with the general theme of misanthropy, and together are meant to be a broad introduction to the things I discuss on our other songs. The A-side focuses on humanity’s self-destructive impulses and takes its second chorus from a paraphrased Johnathan Swift letter. The B-side is about love songs’ inferiority to ‘hate songs’, developing on The Rebel’s description of love lyrics as a ‘pervert endeavour’ in War: Politics.

 What’s next for the band? Any more gigs or records on the way?
ALASTAIR: We’re playing London on the 30th June with Wesley Gonzalez and again on the 28th June with The Rebel at The Windmill. We’ll also be playing Arctangent Festival, Green Man, Bristol Psych Fest, and are currently trying to schedule some dates up North in cities we haven’t played before.

What are you listening to at the moment? What music recommendations do you have?
ALASTAIR: Recently I’ve been listening a lot to the new album Condition by local noise band Spectres; a morbid sonic masterpiece with moments of both genuine beauty and dick-kicking brutality. My favourite track from it changes but is currently Dissolve, which has a great video and at around 4:45 features this totally unearthly ‘wall of noise’ interlude which in the video is just marked [pain] against a plain white background. I’ve also recently gotten back into Mark Wynn, a York-based songwriter championed by Sleaford Mods, who writes these brilliantly funny stream-of-consciousness rants skittering over jagged folk-based music. My go-to song of his is currently Fade Out (Not That One).

<iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/6vdVCbu0s4BEaj3RdRvwrS" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"></iframe>

(Words: Cal Cashin)