With the lockdown still on for many of us, Mark Glenister speaks with Ashley Tubb of Sugar Horse about amongst other things, social media, songwriting, influences, and whingeing...
Firstly, how are you? How is the family?
Hi Mark. Yeah I’m alright. Just been enjoying time at home with my daughter. She’s good I think. She seems to have inherited a big chunk of my miserable prick demeanour, so it’s hard to tell.
Do you have a daily routine, are you learning anything new as everyone else seems to be?
There’s kind of a routine. Having a baby kind of means you’re forced into a meal time/play time/ sleep time routine. It’s all still pretty loose though which is nice. Before lockdown I kind of assumed I was slightly more social than I actually am….which is really saying something. I’ve kind of loved not seeing anyone for months. It’s been a welcome relief. I grew up an only child so I think I enjoy my own company quite a lot.
Are you seeing this lockdown as a time to be creative? And has it changed the way you view the industry?
I kind of set myself a challenge at the start of lockdown to see if I could write at least one thing every day. Doesn’t necessarily have to be something good, but something none-the-less. It’s worked out pretty well so far. We were aiming to put out an album next year and I feel we’ve pretty much got the bones of it now. Itching to get in a practice room and hear the other guys put their magic on the stuff I’ve written.
I don’t think it’s changed my view of the “industry” that much. I mean, I’m a cynical bastard at the best of times and I tend to see the bad in everything. That being said, there’s been some wicked ideas people have been playing with. Tim Burgess’ Listening Parties have been a big highlight. I’ve been enjoying John (from JOHN)’s Instagram live interviews as well.
Do you enjoy Social Media? You seem to use Twitter a lot
Hahahaha. Yeah Twitter is fun. I dunno, I see social media as a kind of joke. I mean, without meaning to get too fucking Adam Curtis about the whole thing, these companies want you to post and share stuff you like, so they can sell that info to advertising companies and they in turn only show you other stuff you already like. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Using them to communicate any kind of serious or nuanced point is usually redundant and ultimately that shit just gets sold someone like Rainmaker. Saying that, sometimes I get sucked in to arguing with someone. It’s a strange beast to deal with. I just try not to take it too seriously.
As a fan I know how much I miss going to gigs, for the music and for the social aspect, is this something that you miss as well?
When I was drinking I probably would’ve agreed with you. Used to love going to shows just to chat shit with some people. Going sober has kind of made me reassess that. Now I much prefer watching a band and having no one talk to me for the whole set. Somehow quitting booze has made me more of a miserable fuck, but hey it’s what I like. That being said, I don’t mind a chat outside before the show. I think it’s the volume I miss more than anything. Having a baby means I haven’t heard anything properly NAPALM LOUD in a few months. I really enjoy being kind of overwhelmed by sound and I really look forward to experiencing that again.
How important are fans, not just for attending gigs, but also for the merch they buy?
FANS ARE ONLY GOOD FOR THE MONEY THEY GIVE US I jest of course. Shame to have to say that, but it will save me a few drawn out Twitter conversations. Nah it’s always very cool to have people actually like your music. Especially when you start a band as weird and obtuse as ours. I mean, I’m not saying we’re fucking Faust or anything, but you never expect people to actually like it. I’m very grateful to anyone that’s even listened to one of our songs the whole way through. There is so much music at everyone’s fingertips now and it’s kind of crazy that someone would choose to listen to you.
I know why, but can you explain just how important small music venues are to all musicians?
Small venues are the reason it’s possible for more than twelve people to hear weird little bands like ours. They’re the unappreciated backbone of the music industry. It’s where everyone starts and where most people finish. The current COVID situation is pretty dangerous for a lot of venues’ ability to survive. If you can, give ‘em something. Keep them going, ‘cause when they go they don’t come back.
How do you approach song writing? Are you a story teller or are your songs about actual events and social commentary?
I’m a metaphor guy. I’ve tried writing things pretty literally in the past, but it always comes out really on-the-nose and a huge cringe fest. Metaphors let you hide behind them a little bit and allow you to kind of dance around a subject a bit more. I’m a pretentious prick and like to stick in references and in jokes all over the place. Those are my favourite kind of lyrics, so I try and emulate that as much as I can. Most of our songs are usually just about my opinion on something. More based in emotion than telling a story or straight criticism. Don’t get me wrong, most of it comes from a pretty negative bent, but I quite like inhabiting the characters/ideologies I’m having a go at. Try and parody them through their own bile. As I said, I’m a pretentious cunt.
What bands/artists have influenced you?
That’s a big question. I have many. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to loads of Burial, Jesu, Sumac and The Cocteau Twins. That lot have been really informing the stuff I’ve been writing. There’s nothing better than hearing a song that makes that inspiration lightbulb flick on. Other than those recent ones, I’ve got a few that never stop making me want to create: Oceansize, The Cure, The Fall, My Bloody Valentine, The Chariot, Arab Strap, Interpol….I could go on, but that would be self indulgent and probably quite dull.
If you could have written one song by someone else, what would it be and why?
There are a few songs that just stop time and speak directly to me whenever I hear them. Fucking Little Bastards by Arab Strap is a very poignant one for me. There’s a particularly dark lyrical section in the middle that will fill anyone with any kind of drinking problem with a very familiar sense of dread. The end section of an Oceansize song called Ornament/The Last Wrongs is another one that just rips me in half, every time without fail. To me it’s an ode to the limitations of existing and it makes me well up without fail every single time. I’ll pick one more just to give the illusion of some kind of pre-planned structure. The Cure’s Disintegration is obviously a fucking opus. I don’t think I can better or even nearly equal what more eloquent humans than I have written about it before, so I won’t even try. I will say though that if you haven’t listened to it before, close your curtains, think about death and turn it on as loud as humanly possible.
Imagine you are locked away for a year (not too difficult at the moment), what one album would you happily listen to during that time, and why?
That’s a pretty easy one. I’d go for Oceansize’s Everyone Into Position. They’re my favourite band and while it might not be my favourite record (although it’s pretty level pegging) it’s the most diverse musically. They manage to crowbar about eighty different genres into it, so it would still be interesting even after a year. If you could interview one person dead or alive (doesn’t have to be music related) who would it be, and why? I’m really tempted to say Mark E Smith here, but depending on who you talk to, he can either be the nicest or most horrible man who’s ever lived. Much like The Fall’s live shows. Bringing hit or miss to it’s logical conclusion. I’d be shitting it the whole time too, so I’ll steer clear of that. I’d quite like a chat with Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins. She’s a pretty renowned recluse, especially since the band parted ways. Her voice puts me under a spell. I am absolutely certain it’s the greatest human voice ever recorded. On second thoughts, that just sounds like I’d be a goon for the whole thing. I dunno. Jeremy Clarkson so I can just repeatedly spit at him? I’ll go with that.
Despite horrors of this pandemic, the lockdown seems to have a created a lot of really positive community action, and for once social media is being used mainly in a positive manner – Do you want life to return to normal once this is over, or would you like people to be using this time to evaluate their lives and start being part of communities and positive social change?
That’s a funny question. “Do you want loads of good things to happen, or shall they just stay pretty shit like they are now?” Hahahaha I just hope everyone made the most of this time. If you’re lucky enough, as I have been, to not have anyone close effected by this thing, then it’s a big opportunity to spend time doing things you always wish you could. Whether that be doing nothing but watching films for twelve weeks, or writing an experimental opera about trout fishing. Fuck knows. Who am I to judge.
I just hope people found at least a little good in it. Just count yourself lucky you weren’t effected I guess. If you’re reading this and you were I hope it wasn’t awful. Time isn’t necessarily a healer, but it gets you used to stuff and that’s an asset in this maelstrom of a world. As for the positive social change thing, I’m not a big believer in general consensus. I have an inherit distrust in it. I am therefore quite wary of communities and am like a pathetic hermit creature who just shouts to himself about things that most people won’t think are important. Don’t listen to my ideas, for they shall drown you in darkness and self doubt. However, if you are into that kind of thing feel free to get in touch.
Cheers to Mark for the questions and thanks to everyone who managed to make it to the end. As usual I’ve managed to turn quite an uplifting interview into a massive whingefest. We started so well… Keep yourselves warm.