405 Interview: Subhumans
Dick Lucas is the larynx-ravaging vocals behind the epic Wessex anarcho-punk band Sub-Hum-Ans, est. 1980. Hoping to bask in some of his philosophical wit, I chatted to him backstage at The Luminaire about punk rock, white vans and anarchism before the band's last show on their final UK tour of 2009. What say he? How's it going with everything at the moment? Good, we are at the end of a short nightly tour, mostly around the midlands and the north. It's been totally freezing, ... (continued)
Dick Lucas is the larynx-ravaging vocals behind the epic Wessex anarcho-punk band Sub-Hum-Ans, est. 1980. Hoping to bask in some of his philosophical wit, I chatted to him backstage at The Luminaire about punk rock, white vans and anarchism before the band's last show on their final UK tour of 2009. What say he? How's it going with everything at the moment? Good, we are at the end of a short nightly tour, mostly around the midlands and the north. It's been totally freezing, but yeah it's gone really smoothly, people have turned out. Had a good laugh. Briefly summarise how the band formed. Me and Bruce the guitarist, we were in two separate bands, The Mental and The Stupid Humans, that was like 1978/79. We both split up in the summer of 1980 and Bruce and Andy and Grant, they had a band without a singer so I became their singer...they were subhuman because they were Stupid Humans, they were lacking one human i.e. singer so I joined and sort of pluralised it to Subhumans which was like a really simplistic, non-deep way of forming a band name. How long were you playing with The Mental before you joined Subhumans? About a year and a half. We did like 10 gigs, based around Basingstoke. Really small gigs in pubs and that. What were your influences in the 80s when the band got going? What was the punk scene like at the time? There were a lot of small bands around, mostly if not all influenced by the sort of first rush of punk rock like The Pistols and The Clash and so on, and then once we were all approaching the age of 19 or 20 Crass came along and put a whole lot of meaning behind words like anarchy and society and that sort of thing. We were based in the West Country in Bath or west Wiltshire or whatever, so we sort of had our own little scene going on down there. There was the A-Heads, there was Organized Chaos, there was us, and you know, we practiced once a week between all three bands in two rooms in a youth centre. Did you always set out to be an anarcho band? We didn't think "Oh let's be an anarcho band", we just ended up playing with anarcho bands. Flux of Pink Indians and all that, and our ideas were more or less the same. Some sort of leftist anarcho philosophy, but at the time you just think songs singing against war, society or the system are much more fun to do, much more meaningful to do than just singing about beer and girlfriends or whatever. Your first LP 'The Day The Country Died' takes influence from the novel '1984'. I heard on the radio yesterday that most of us were now watching more than 4 hours of tv a day. Does this ring any bells with your song 'Big Brother' when you talk about tv/media influencing people in their houses? Yeah you're right about what you know - basically we're all watching too much tv and it's all shit, and it was a year away from 1984 and that whole big brother Orwellian thing was being asked about - who's got control of the media, who controls your house, do they know about us - you know this is before the age of computers and databases and that...but that sort of thing was still going on and there's a lot of interest in that, just how much of a big brother state we were living in. Could you talk about the idea behind the song 'Subvert City'? (Laughs) That was a sort of imaginary scenario where the future is run by anarchists or people who want to change things and how much does the structure of society change once you've got the notion of leadership. And if you want people following the leadership then surely how much different is that from that which you were trying to overthrow in the first place? Challenging the conception that society can be changed at all if it's going to stick with the structure of having leaders and followers and laws and that sort of thing. Did you always see yourself as a socially/politically focussed band...not in that you were preaching as such, but what was the message you were trying to get across? The basic message- rethink everything: think about what you're doing, what you're looking at, who you're talking to, what people are saying to you, don't take anything for granted was the bottom line I think. I was writing about what I thought about things, I didn't want to write in a way that says "You must do this, you must do that". No one likes being told what to do...one of the basic punk premises is "Don't tell me what to do" (laughs). You sound very much like other hardcore bands such as Dead Kennedys. Would you say you share more or less with Jello Biafra as a singer? Probably more...he was doing much the same thing on the other side of the sea inquiring stuff, and political things getting mixed in with it...he was a bit more political than we were, but yeah it's the same sort of idea. Did you ever come out controversial at all? We weren't really out there to shock people and the intial shock of punk rock had worn off years ago. What was the reason for your break-up at the end of 1985? Let's see, we couldn't really decide what to do next and Trotsky our drummer was going to leave anyway 'cause he was getting fed up of it. And we couldn't decide whether to just get a new drummer or not, and then we sort of fizzled out, then recorded the last album, Split Vision, and then for the week that followed I joined Culture Shock so that more or less sealed it I suppose. Now though you are touring with your original members. This sets you above many other bands which only have one or two original members left. How did you all find the time to carry on with things without other committments coming up? Yeah it's amazing how we are still together. No we have got other committments as well, you get more and more as you get older, it gets more difficult. Some people got kids, some people got jobs, some got mortgages and houses to pay for and others have got none of the above, but yeah it's a right mixture. We had to squeeze space out of the year in which to do tours and sort of plan it about a year in advance or 6 months in advance.
How's things with your other band, Citizen Fish? Are you dividing your priorities between both?
It depends which members can do what and what time. I try and do a 50/50.
Tell me about your work with Leftover Crack (Deadline)?
Oh yeah! Yeah, they basically asked us if we wanted to do a split record with them and we ain't done a record for about three years...and it gave us a good kick up the arse and we wrote all the songs on that, our album bit, in about three days. It was really like, right, we'll just get down, write the lyrics, get the tunes sorted out and yeah it worked a treat.
When you started up your own label Bluurg records, was that anything to do with feeling you weren't really in control before when you didn't have your own record label?
That was inspired by Flux of Pink Indians [who] put our first records out on their own Spiderleg records. Crass put out Flux of Pink Indians first records on their own Crass records so it was like a sort of follow, trickle-down effect of like Crass, Spiderleg, Bluurg...and then I was putting out bands like The Instigators, Andy started up his own label and Hammy of The Instigators, he did Peaceville records. It's just a good way of doing it, you get more control over the product and the price, and that sort of thing.
How would you establish a society based upon the anarchic dream?
(Laughs) That's a tricky one. Christ. Total redistribution of all the wealth and the money, much more emphasis on people's talents and abilities rather than everything being so money-based. This is probably going to sound like Communism or something, but without the sort of mass slaughter of thousands of people. I haven't studied any 'isms, I'm not a political theorist at all, but I do know that money is so entrenched and so ruinous of people's lives. Decisions have to be made but they need to be cooperated by agreement. You can't expect everyone to be totally equal. I mean some people have got more ability to lead than others and if they can be thrown out of their powerful position as easily as they're put into it, which doesn't exist at the moment, that would help.
Has it ever been a challenge to keep producing new material?
Mostly 'cause physically, geographically, Phil lives in Spain and Trotsky lives in German, it's hard to all be in the same place to have a practice. We haven't practiced for a year now or something, it's crazy - it took us 9 years to get this recent album out, Internal Riot, from reform in '98 to 2007. It took 9 years to get one record out, that's how slow practising has become. With the lyric writing, obviously there's a few subjects left that I haven't written about.
With all the songs you've done, how do you keep producing refreshing topics to sing about?
Just wait until the inspiration turns up and just keep writing and changing it until it is fresh and not repeating itself.
What, in your opinion, was the best album you put out? Do you have a favourite song at all?
Well, you know they're all good, some are better than others...possibly Worlds Apart, it's got a big variety of styles of songs and the writing is more mature. Nah, you know there's loads of favourite songs.
Do you see yourself producing another album in the near future?
Yeah well if we get the songs together, could take 20 years (laughs). I hope so, yeah we need to get more songs together somehow.
Was there any weird or funny things that happened to you on tour?
Probably loads of them...when I get asked this question I just go blank. Most of the weird/funny stuff is just disasters relating to vans breaking down and being left in the wrong place and being towed away and failing and general things like that. We once followed a van, we were going to somebody's house after a gig who lives in California and he said, "I'll be in the white van, just follow me." So I followed this white van for ages and ages and ages on very long straight roads, at night. This van seems to be going faster and faster and faster and faster and faster...[we were in] the bigger van [which] has all the gear in it, we can't catch up, so we think this is ridiculous and then we think, "Hang on a minute, didn't he live like south of the gig and I'm going like north?" And it dawned on us that we had actually been following the wrong white van for like 2 hours. Not quite as crazy as you might be thinking (laughs).
Do you prefer to tour over in America or UK? Is there a difference in the audiences?
We do get more people at gigs over there, 'cause there are more people, there's more money about and they like it when a band from overseas comes and plays for those reasons....and gigging over here is good because there's people we've known for decades who still turn up to gigs...so yeah it's both good in different sorts of ways.
How would you sum up Subhumans?
Punk rock for the people who think punk rock is dead.
You can visit Subhumans by going to http://www.myspace.com/subhumansuk