Interview S.C.U.M.: ‘Music Is A Lot Like An Infection, Or An Illness’

We ask frontman Thomas a few burning questions, over a pre-gig meal of roast chicken, paella, and some grilled asparagus. As you do.

The best things come to those who wait, apparently. It applies to S.C.U.M. who, despite creating a bit of buzz way back in 2008, have taken till now to release their debut proper and put together an extensive European tour. It could also apply to this interview. Having watched the band diligently sound check for an hour and a half – it sounded fantastic - and frontman Thomas chase creases from the evenings (natty) ensemble, DIY finally got to ask the burning questions over a pre-gig meal of roast chicken, paella, and some grilled asparagus. As you do.

You’ve been around since 2008 but it’s taken until now to release your debut album. Why the delay?
I think it’s been a reasonable amount of time. Our aesthetic has always been similar, but our goals in song writing and what we were able to achieve has developed so much from 2008 to when we started to write the album. It was actually finished in August 2010, but it was just one of those things. Mute Records, who put it out, used to be affiliated with EMI, and it took time to sort all that out and for Mute to become independent again – which is great for us, especially seeing as EMI just got bought by Universal. So it was a year brought on by necessity, but it was also a year of growing up, and developing as a band.

Is it any different touring with an album – fans now know the songs – as opposed to before, having only released a few songs? Are people’s reactions different?
There’s more of a difference within the band actually. We’re a lot more consistent, and enjoy it a lot more now that we have something to fulfil. But there has been a lot more interaction as well. Obviously, with live music, if you don’t know it it’s always difficult… I find myself disengaging from stuff I don’t know, even if it’s really good, so when you know it, and you hear it in that environment, it can be amazing.

Do you feel there is too much pressure on bands nowadays to be constantly writing and releasing new material? At times, it seems like even a couple of months off can be a death knell…
I think there’s a pressure on bands who get extensively written about, but people perhaps haven’t heard (their stuff) and it enters their subconscious… and there’s an expectation for bands to do something which is completely new, which very few artists are capable of. It’s very rare for a band to do that with their first record anyway, but that’s the kind of pressure I feel, or is expected of bands, to do something forward thinking in the context of modern music.

What made you choose your name? And have you actually read it?
Yeah, we’ve all read the book and we’ve all got a copy… or were given a copy as a present. The name was chosen long before, maybe when we were 17 or something. It wasn’t something that we really put too much thought into, and it obviously doesn’t represent our political beliefs or anything. We just thought it really worked as a visual thing.

A lot of the lazier parts of the press seized on things like your name, and the fact that Huw’s brother is in The Horrors, and labelled you as “pretentious art rock”. If you could go back in time, would you rethink your name or your approach?
I don’t know. I mean, where we are at the moment, I really don’t give a fuck about the perception of anybody who takes into account being from East London, or affiliated with someone’s brother or whatever. I really don’t think it makes a difference what part of London you’re from, you know? There are connotations to that part of the city, but I also think it’s probably the area where its possible to be the most creatively viable for the least amount of money, which is what makes an area supposedly trendy. So no, I don’t think we would.

It seems that when bands – yourselves and These New Puritans spring to mind – focus solely on the music and the art, they get branded as being “difficult”. Does it frustrate you that you are expected to “play the game” as it were?
Well I would never affiliate art and music together though. At least on a personal level. I think that with art there’s often, but not always, a choice to interact with it, whereas music is a lot more like an infection, or an illness, in that you have no choice whether you take it in or not. You can have terrible music in your head, all the time, because it surrounds you… it’s like a virus, because you don’t choose to interact with it, you kind of have to. But if it’s good (music), it’s amazing, obviously.

So music’s not an art form?
It is a vast form of expression, and it is incredibly creative. There’s a huge creative process behind it, sure, but an artform? I don’t know.

But what about the fact that, in order to be a success, at times you have to tick certain boxes and do certain things – chat shows, an advert, or whatever – that perhaps you might not want to do but are pushed into?
On some levels in can certainly be frustrating in that you lose that initial drive or force that you started with, which is really why you wanted to start making music, and the industry can really take that from you… and you don’t get it back. But if people expect us to come out, painted white and throwing flowers around…

Yeah, gladioli! That doesn’t bother me too much. Plus, we’re lucky enough to work with Mute Records, who won’t really come at us in the direction of doing a car ad, or whatever, so we haven’t had that “dilute something to make it accessible” conversation with anyone.

You’ve spoken before about not wanting to be seen as part of a movement, or as a product. What do you make of artists having paid-for streams of gigs? Is that the future?
It’s probably fulfilling to watch a live stream of a PJ Harvey gig or whoever, and I’m sure if it’s live, and she’s making people pay for it, it’d be exactly as she’d want it to look. You know, the same perspective as someone actually there, that’s the perspective she’d want to be seen by. We’ve always had live albums, and live filming for a very long time, so of itself it’s not a new concept to try and capitalise on it. It doesn’t take anything away from performing for me, I don’t think. From a musician’s point of view, it can actually be quite interesting: you can really dissect the live experience that someone is putting across. Of course, most people would rather be there, but the Florence gig was at Hackney Empire. Lots of people couldn’t go, and it was a chance to see her play her brand new material.

Ennio Morricone is apparently an influence of yours – why do you think this year has seen such a crossover between cinema and music?
It’s kind of the ideal way to create music. You get set an agenda, and the only thing you have to do is fulfil it, and elaborate upon what you’ve been given, for example a love scene. You really have to get that across to people, watching the film, and you need to heighten that to such a level. Also, it’s an extremely pleasurable way of listening to music as it is – there aren’t any vocals but there are melodies you can concentrate on, which grab you and you can’t disengage from, you know?

Would you like to, or have you been asked, to score a film?
Haven’t been asked to score a film, no. We’ve been in a film though, as a live band in a scene. We haven’t seen it yet. But yeah, I’d love to score something. As I said, I think it’s really the ideal way of writing music.

Apparently you’re a fan of Lou Reed…
MASSIVE Lou Reed fan! I really love Lou Reed, but “Lou Reed fan” is a big statement, isn’t it?

Have you listened to ‘Lulu’ yet?
I’ve heard the initial track.

And what do you think?
It’s… um… it’s very difficult to listen to. It’s incredibly… I understand, and I know, where its coming from, with the whole Rock & Roll Hall of Fame thing, you know? Lou Reed stopped singing in 1979 anyway, so… I don’t think it discredits anything else he’s done. He’s written some of the most incredible songs of all time, and every phase of his career has played it’s own role. This is just the one he’s currently playing. I actually met him, when he did the Metal Machine trio last year at the Royal Festival Hall, and it was really good. It wasn’t Metal Machine Music played note for note, but I really enjoyed it.

Whatever happened to the “SCUM Dine With Me” idea? That’s surely got genius late-night TV written all over it…
I got really into cooking when we were recording the record, because literally music, the countryside, and food was all there was to think about. So we ended up getting really into it, but my house is currently way too messy to think about having people over. I think we’d put in a lot of effort, but someone in a red rollneck (nods to bandmember Sam Kilcoyne) wouldn’t!

What would you cook?
I’ve already cooked it for everyone – I do a mean Thai soup. But I wouldn’t get good marks anyway cos I’m a vegetarian, and everyone would complain there wasn’t any meat. It always happens. I’m the guy who feels awkward cos people have to prepare “extra” food, just for me. It’s been like that all my life.

S.C.U.M.’s debut album ‘Again Into Eyes’ is out now via Mute.

Tags: S.C.U.M, Features

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