Interview The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster

DIY spoke to the Brighton rockers before their secret show at London’s Frog clubnight.

‘How are you going to start this then - ‘It’s a rainy afternoon with the 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster’? - We’re going to sound like a bunch of miserable sods!’

playfully remarks Tom, the affable drummer of the mighty Matchbox, as we stroll around a drizzly Soho Square looking for somewhere to conduct the interview. Our meeting coincides with tonight’s secret gig at the Frog club night at Mean Fiddler - but there’s a problem. Elusive front man Guy McKnight (or Elvis McKnight as he’s known in some quarters) has disappeared. While the band’s tour manager goes off to find him, guitarist Sym tells me about his day. Expecting to hear wild stories of psychosis safaris and being overcome by bouts of mental, I am reasonably deflated to hear he’s been ‘washing windows for [his] mum’. Celebrate your mother, then. Eventually vagabond McKnight returns and after taking a few photos around a portrait of Peter Stringfellow (‘I can feel his presence’ - Marc, bassist), we settle down on a carefully selected park bench and set the tapes rolling.

I’d like to start by talking a bit about the new album. What can the people who haven’t been able to make it to any of the recent Royal Society gigs expect from it?
Tom: The new album?
Marc: All new material…
Guy: New songs…
Marc: Fancy dress… Fancy, you know, things…

Nice. So how did recording ‘The Royal Society’ differ from making ‘Horse Of The Dog’?
Marc: Well I suppose it’s just much better as we’re much more experienced…
Tom: With this [album] we recorded it in two parts, the first part we did at Sound City in LA and that sounded ok, but then we went out into the desert about a month later and did the second part.
Sym: And that’s where it really took off…
Tom: It was really amazing as we were in the middle of nowhere - the Joshua Tree - in a studio off a dirt road. At the bottom of the road there was just a shop, a curry house and a pizza place, all run by the same family. At night there’d be no light at all and you’d just wander around in pitch black bumping into cactuses - it was just a really amazing experience and incredibly enjoyable… and there was no TV.
Andy: We recorded the first album in Lincoln so it was quite a difference.

How do you think you’ve developed as a band? ‘Horse Of The Dog’ was a furious 26 minutes that got straight to the point, is ‘The Royal Society’ a considerable departure (if only length wise)?
Marc: (enthusiastically) It’s a launch!
Andy: Yea, and we’re marginally tighter!
Sym: The thing is, Horse Of The Dog contained pretty much the first songs that we ever wrote and it was a really concrete foundation. Now we’re trying to work towards, well…
Marc: …building a penthouse!
Sym: Yea… just pushing the boundaries in all directions. We’d like to try and break the perception of us just being a garage rock band.
Guy: The first album was basically just a primal grunt.
Tom: (bursts out laughing) Yeah… We’ve evolved… from caveman… to rock giants!

What’s the story behind current single ‘I Could Be An Angle’ - I heard it had something to do with a botched tattoo job.
Marc: Oh, I have heard about that but that wasn’t actually anything to do with it… I read an article about it in The Sun - This woman wanted ‘Angel’ tattooed on her back to mourn the death of her brother, but the tattooist was dyslexic and wrote ‘Angle’ instead!
Tom: Oh God!
Andy: I suppose it is similar to the song…
Tom: … it’s just as tragic…
Andy: …we were in Texas and we drove past a homeless man who had a sign which I’m guessing he thought said ‘Please help me, I could be an angel’ but of course he spelt it ‘angle’ and that’s where it came from.
Marc: We felt for him…

Changing the subject a bit now, one of the many genius things about Horse Of The Dog was that it simply refused to be pigeon-holed, there was no recognisable influences on the sound, making it completely so what exactly are your influences (if any) and what did you listen to when you were younger?
Marc: The influences for the first album we’re completely not the ones people thought they were… we were listening to (looks around to other band members for a little help), what? Captain Beefheart…
Andy: Pixies
Tom: The Stooges
Marc: Guns’n’Roses
Guy: The Doors
Marc: …and a bit of Joy Division, stuff like that…
Tom: Yea we thought people would listen to us and say, “They’ve ripped off the Stooges” but…
Marc: (interrupting to pronounce an important point that causes much laughter) Love was an influence, but it has only really become apparent on the second album!
Tom: …but in fact they mentioned bands that’d we’d never heard of.

You started out as a gang of friends as opposed to band of musicians, at what point did you decide to pick up instruments and how do you think this inverted cohesion of musicianship affected the way the band turned out?
Andy: We were a gang, but we still were a band as well, just… we didn’t actually play.
Tom: We weren’t very ‘dangerous’.
Andy: I mean, everyone had their specific role they were going to play… we just never got round to playing. We were all what we are, but we just didn’t know how to play.

So when did you all start learning instruments?
Andy: Well I’ve been playing for about a decade now.
Marc: Yea, I’ve been playing for about 10 years too, on and off.
Tom: I started playing drums when my sister got a drum kit years ago…
Sym: So it was only really me who started late… I’ve been playing for four years.
Marc: And Guy couldn’t talk!
Tom: He had to learn how to shout!

Live gigs are the most important factor in The 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster experience. Discuss.
Sym: (matter-of-factly, as if revealing the meaning of life) Yes. (queue much laughter)
Marc: We started off as a live band so I guess that’s the thing we’re best at because it’s what we’ve been doing the longest.
Guy: I think the last album sounded more like a live album, when you listen to the new one it sounds more like it was actually recorded in a studio.

You’ve also been at the helm of a number of secret guerrilla gigs - tonight included - and one of the most memorable was last summer’s now mythologised Acupuncture Party - free bar, wrestling, dwarves, sex show - it was by far the greatest gig of all time. What are you recollections of it, how the hell did it all take place and are you ever planning on holding anything as wild again?
Tom: (disappointed) I missed all the sex.
Marc: Yeah, I missed the sex and I missed the stripping, I saw a bit of the wrestling but I mostly just became engrossed in the free bar!
Andy: We got involved simply because we got invited to do it - If we were asked to do something like it again we probably would! It was just really good fun.
Marc: Sean McClusky organised it… the genius that he is!

Guy, you’re known for being a total party animal, which I experienced first hand at the Kerrang Awards last summer when you dived into the center of a table, smashing it in half, then got up and tried to kiss me, but ended up just wiping blood on my shirt. Do you hope to one day settle down and have kids?
Guy: I actually already have kids!

How do you describe The 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster to them whilst they’re sat attentively on your knee?
Guy: I have two sons and I just say, ‘I’ve got to go to work’ and, you know, ‘I’ll be home later’!
Marc: You don’t tell them what you do; they think you’re a gangster!

In all seriousness, aside from the wild and adventurous nature of the band, I’m more than aware that you take the music incredibly seriously and it is at the heart of everything you do. I think it would be fair to say that you are one of the very few truly original bands around at the moment so where do you see yourself going with the music, do you have any long term plans for the band or are you just taking each day as it comes?
Marc: (as if I’ve just asked the most obvious question ever) World Domination.
Andy: I think we’d like to start supporting some bigger bands, because there are all these famous people who keep saying they love us but then they never invite us on tour! At the moment we’ve got our fanbase and it’s very strong but we need to actually play to more people and let people know about us.
Marc: Let them witness the live experience, show that we always give it 100%.
Tom: I think because our music doesn’t really fit in with anything else that’s fashionable at the moment, it’s a never-ending struggle for us. People say they like us and all but for other bands it’s a lot easier because they’re often just writing generic shit, which is really easy to make. What we’re doing is a lot more difficult to blueprint, so I think for us to become really popular without changing what we’re doing would be great.
Andy: Yea to just get big with what we’re doing.
Tom: but it’s hard… (mock despair)… It’s just the nature of our music!!!

One final question - If the 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster were placed in charge of the country, how would it be run?
Marc: Good Question, (to Tom) what was it you said the other day?
Tom: We’d spend all the money on Art, Education, Health and the Environment.
Guy: (confusingly, making everybody burst out laughing) We’d spend all our money on LEGS!
Marc: We’d have Kilroy Silk fired into the moon and then arrest all the members of the BNP, putting them into prison for inciting racial hatred.
Andy: That’s about it!

Well thanks guys, all the best with the new album and good luck with the gig tonight!
Tom: Let’s all shake hands!

And with that we go our separate ways. At 1am we re-convene at Frog as they prepare to take the stage. A relatively sedate crowd is whipped up into a sudden frenzy as McKnight appears in front of the microphone and utters a ‘Good Evening’. As the other members of the band rise out of the darkness behind him, it all fits into place. For the next forty minutes he commands the crowd like a grotesque circus MC, tapping into depths of human psyche un-reached by other, lesser bands. For those forty minutes The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster own us all. Whilst the interview showed that they were just normal, friendly guys who happened to be in band, on stage they transmogrify into an unstoppable rock and roll beast that beats the shit out of all the other puny bands dragging their drum-kits about town. It’s generally accepted that we’re living in a world gone mad and The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster are the perfect soundtrack.

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