Music has been a huge part of my life for about as long as alcohol has. I’ve played in bands since being probably 15 years old, and even before that I played the cello at school, and various brass instruments in the Salvation Army youth band. I even played the trombone for a bit, which makes me equally cool and a bit special.
I’ve done the standard rock band 3-piece setup (inspired by Nirvana in the early 90s) through to new metal (Korn’s fault) and then I got into Nine Inch Nails and started dabbling with electronics in music. I had an epiphany in the early 2000’s – that having sole control of my music output is BORING and you need to relinquish control if you want to keep it interesting. I continued with the electronic angle, but handed the music production side as much as possible over to the experts (well – geeky mates). This freed my time up for writing lyrics, and drinking.
Following the formation and disbandment of some very fun but ultimately unsuccessful bands, I formed Petrol Bastard along with my mate Ben. The premise was perfect for a drinker like me:- drunken, anarchic songs about drinking and smashing stuff up – all set to a loud messy techno background. We essentially built the whole act around being drunk. Fans don’t get upset if we get drunk and release a terrible album, or if we show up wrecked to a show and it’s a total shambles – they WANT IT and they EXPECT IT.
For 3 years this was great fun. How could it not be? We spent weekends drunk in the back of a van, travelling up and down the country (and a bit of time in Europe), blasting loud music and making new friends, playing crazy shows to people that were on our level! Other crazy bastards! Other drinkers! The problem with all this though is that it positively VALIDATED and NORMALIZED the lifestyle – and the drinking.
When I gave up the booze, over a year ago, I had genuine worries that this would spell the end of Petrol Bastard. How can a band built on drinking possibly function without it? And also how the fuck am I meant to play a sober gig!?
On a side note – I recently went to a screening of a new documentary about Gary Numan, called Android In Lala Land. The documentary focuses on his family’s relocation from Sussex UK to California USA, whilst trying to record and release his 2013 album Splinter. It was an interesting enough documentary (and the filmmaker was there to hold a Q&A session afterwards which was cool), but for me there were 2 main points to take away:
- Gary Numan’s song writing process is pretty similar to mine. It’s all trial and error. Twiddle the nobs until a good sound comes out. Good to know that even the successful ones are winging it.
- Gary Numan doesn’t like to drink. In fact, in a polar reversal to my life, his wife is seen trying to convince him that alcohol will help him get over his crippling stage fright. We even see him backstage with the band, almost puking after forcing down something mixed with coke. His wife WANTS him to drink!? Gary Numan apparently doesn’t need or want booze. Maybe alcohol isn’t the key to creativity after all!
So…. a year ago I began playing sober gigs. It’s worth noting that Ben also cut right down on drinking at shows – I suppose it’s not as much fun drinking on your own, and i’m lucky to be working with someone who understands my issues and my need to change. Ben and I also began the process of writing and recording for our new album ‘We Need To Talk About Gavin’ – the fourth proper PB album (aside from remixes and compilations), and the first one I have ever written lyrics for sober. Here’s what I learned:
- Paying for a driver for every gig, as well as the huge cost of drinks, means that we used to lose money on every show. We’re a niche (and shite) band and we can’t get away with charging a huge fee. Nowadays I drive to every gig (unless the train is cheaper/easier – which it occasionally is) and so we generally come away with no deficit. It’s crazy how expensive being in an active band can cost, so it’s just good to get our losses down to nil.
- Drunk gigs always felt mental, but the video evidence was always hideous. Did I really just spend the whole gig falling over and rolling around on the floor? Sober gigs are super-energetic. I get to control every little thing I put on that stage, including some TERRIBLE new dance moves. Drunk or sober though – I still always come off stage smelling like a tramp’s Y-fronts.
- Writing new material sober was hard work. Ben writes all the music, sends it to me, and then it’s my job to add the lyrics. It FELT like hard work, but actually I think that I was just much less willing to write any old shite this time around. It’s easy to write shit stuff when you’re drunk, and then just write it off as ‘punk’.
- Now, more than ever, I play a character. My stage persona used to be 50% acting, 50% real me. Now it’s all a character. I love it though – it means I can get away with saying very naughty things.
- It’s not the end of Petrol Bastard. In fact – it’s more like the beginning. We’ve found a new energy, and both Ben and myself recognise the benefits of moving forward with a clear head. We’re no longer the drunk guys onstage – instead we’re the puppet masters controlling them, and that gives us a whole new dimension of fuckery.
In terms of the live shows – the evidence speaks for itself. See here a review of a recent gig in Manchester: http://link2wales.co.uk/2016/crudblog/mc-devvo-petrol-bastard-footprints-in-the-custard-rebellion-manchester/
In terms of the new album – I’m not sure yet. It’s only been out for review for about a week, and early signs are good, but does it really matter? If sober albums are shit albums then it’s tough tits. We’ll just make more shit albums, because the alternatives are quitting the band or quitting sobriety.
I’m aware this has probably turned into kind of a sales pitch now, but here’s the new album if anyone is interested. It’s free to download: https://petrolbastard.bandcamp.com/album/we-need-to-talk-about-gavin
This track in particular tells the (almost entirely true) story of a particular messy gig in Glasgow: https://petrolbastard.bandcamp.com/track/nobody-knows-what-happened-in-glasgow
Peace out, bitches x