A crass conversation
The No Class tea drinkers received an invitation to interview Crass which turned out to be an inconvenience for everyone involved. When we got to the end of the Central line we phoned to say we were at Epping station but they had no idea we were coming even though we called 5 days earlier to confirm the visit. We were told to wait at the station where we would be picked up. We waited for ages in the cold and wind before the station master suddenly called out has anyone got anything to do with Crass, well they cant come and collect you they want you to phone them back. We phoned back. They were most apologetic saying they hadnt a working vehicle could we make our own way over. We jumped on a bus having watched loads pass by. Following their instructions we eventually managed to find the red brick house. We knocked on the black door which opened quickly to more apologies and requests to take our shoes off. We entered barefoot and cold and were shown to the warm kitchen where we were introduced to Eve, Joy and Steve. Eve was about to have a bath and never reappeared. Penny joined us later but we had long run out of tape. We sat around the kitchen table with loads of cats, one stroppy one. Tea was made, tested and approved and the interview began.
Youre already dead
NC: Why did you call the single Youre already dead and not something more positive like dont die for war?
J: The actual title refers to the person on the single cover (Thatcher) and people like that.
S: We went on that last CND march at Hyde Park and all of us were absolutely shocked by the way people were being told were to go and what to do. You had to walk in between these metal barriers, if you stepped outside the police made you get back in and in the end the police started hitting people. And everyone around us was saying shut up because they couldnt hear Neil Kinnock talk. It was that sort of stuff and those people who say theyre against the bomb but are not prepared to really do anything about it.
J: Basically the title refers to the person on the cover as well as those who arent prepared to actually stand up and demand what they want and say what they see is wrong. If theyre still prepared to just accept concessions you might as well be dead.
NC: How much do you think marches like that achieve?
S: What I kept thinking while I was on the march and there was an idea to try and do it, was that if a group of people were to get to the front of the march and just lead it off somewhere else. Something like that could work if everyone at Hyde Park had said right were not going home, were going to stay here all fucking night or if everyone had said lets go to Trafalgar Square, they would stop all the traffic. Or march outside Downing Street, whos gonna fucking stop them? Thats a protest.
NC: Didnt you feel optimistic about the numbers that turned out?
J: We did feel optimistic about the numbers but when you realise that people arent prepared to do much its very disheartening.
NC: But dont you think Youre already dead is a negative title?
S: No. If you read the lyrics - 400,000 people march for CND unless theyre willing to act on what they can see theyre already dead Its saying that if all you are prepared to do is go on a CND march every summer then nothings going to change. I really want to remind people that standing next to someone getting smashed to fuck by a policeman and telling others to be quiet that those people are already dead. Theyre already dead cos they think putting a CND sticker in their car means they are socially aware and doing something to stop the nuclear arms race - theyre not fucking doing anything at all.
J: It was the amount of faith they all had in the labour party. There was this bloke heckling Kinnock and the woman behind me actually hit him and told him to be quiet as she want to hear Kinnock speak - she got very upset. When Kinnock came on there was this amazing kind of great hope, this mans going to save us. But its so ridiculous, they dont think back to the last labour government which actually introduced Polaris.
S: It was just a fucking joke that march. Every speaker that got up stared off by saying Oh I wish you could see yourselves. I dont want to go on a march to be told where to go by a policeman, or to be forced down some back streets where the march has no effect or to be told how wonderful we all look by some twit.
J: E.P. Thompson said Were winning. I think he should have said were losing and weve got to work harder. To say were winning makes you feel safe and thats not good enough.
NC: Do you think Stop The City is a more effective form of protest?
J: Much more because its totally autonomous and people do what they feel they can. Youre not supposed to demonstrate in the city, its illegal.
NC: Have you had any legal problems, court cases?
S: No. The nearest thing to that was Christ Reality Asylum.
J: They tried to do us for criminal blasphemy against common law. We are quite lucky really because we are quite well known and that saved us because they know wed blow it up. So they tend to stay away from us.
NC: Do you get much hassle though? (Silence) Would your phone be tapped?
S: Oh yes, should think so. But they dont actually come round and come in. The local bobby comes round on a sunday for a cup of tea but thats about it.
J: The fact that were well known and our public position would make it better for them to keep us quiet. Its cold comfort really, as whatever they want do they do very quietly. That KGB is a classic thing, it was reported in the news papers when they mistook our tape.
NC: What was the purpose of that tape?
J: It was made as an attempt to interfere with the election and it was sent out to Europe.
NC: DId it work?
J: It took a long time to work its way back. The way it did was that the state department got hold of it and used it as part of their anti-russian thing saying it was KGB propaganda. We didnt dream that would happen. Nothing came back on us. Apparently they cant do you unless you sell something like that, whereas it was just sent out.
NC: So far youve avoided going to prison?
J: So far it hasnt happened. I wont say weve consciously avoided it but it hasnt happened yet.
NC: What jobs did you do before Crass?
J: Odd jobs - supermarket, potato picking, painting and decorating. Anything to get the rent together.
NC: So how did Anarchy come to convince you?
J: Wed all been thinking along those lines for years and it just happened that in this particular case we decided it was as a band. It seemed a good way of getting across to people. We didnt decide to be anarchists. I can remember thinking the same as I do know for a long time, since I was small, obviously not so articulated, but much the same.
NC: Do you think the band is the best way of getting what youre saying across?
J: So far it has been because music has become a lot more political.
NC: Isnt a minority listening to you?
J: It is a minority compared to how many people there are, but it goes a long way.
NC: You must realise that people go to your gigs for the loud music they enjoy dancing to.
J: I dont think thats true. A lot of people go away and carry on doing things their own way.
NC: Why do you think that?
J: Because of the letters we get and the communications we have with people. We have started people doing things on their own.
NC: What about those who dont. Those who paint the Crass logo on their leather jackets and just jump up and down at the front. Dont they piss you off?
S: Yes they do. It get really tiring. You think, when are things gonna change? Whats gonna change and what can I suggest more than what Im doing that can help towards that change.
NC: How do you change things?
S: I dont know. I dont think change is a crash-bang-wallop overnight thing. Its a really slow process.
NC: Whats the process? Do you educate the masses?
S: No you dont educate. You just point out what you see is wrong. If someone agrees with you then you get together and say what can we do about it or what should we be doing.
NC: If its that simple why hasnt it been more successful?
S: Because what were up against is conditioning from birth into this life which is all someone else's idea of what the world is. Youre thrown into this life of TV, microwave cookers, refrigerators and nice sparkling kitchens. People want the TV. People want to be comfortable. And thats what youre up against.
NC: Can you change things incrementally by voting for the Labour Party? Will they change something from what we have now?
J: I suppose thats all part of it. But those changes arent changes at all, they are concessions. They dont actually alter the state of slavery people live in.
NC: You wouldnt advocate voting in a general election?
J: Its up to the people to decide whether they think its worthwhile.
S: If I had had my voting card I think I would have voted last time just to keep the stupid bastards out.
The garden gate
NC: Do you think, suggesting weve been brought up with a conditioned way of thinking and to change the way we think weve got to change our state of mind. Isnt that a hard concept to grasp?
S: Yes it is. You have to start with silly things like Banned from the Roxy. It sounds stupid but you have to start somewhere. Maybe the furthest Ill ever get to actually changing myself is as far as the garden gate. Beyond that its so big youre bombarded and its a real fight. A lot of people dont even get as far as the garden gate.
NC: you say you only get as far as the garden gate, how far do you expect other people to go?
S: I dont expect
NC: Well, would like, hope then?
S: Obviously as far as they can get. All I can do is hope. Maybe if things dont change in my lifetime, which I doubt, then maybe in the next lifetime they will.
NC: Dont you think its already been tried, like in Europe after the First World War?
S: Yes it has, so what? If its been tried and failed, what do you do? Do you give up?
NC: You try again in a different way picking up on their mistakes.
J: Everything weve ever said has been said before. All we do is repeat it because theres now more people than ever that can pick up on those ideas.
S: Going back to what you said earlier - you try and change things by putting it out differently. The next step is to be really spiritual about it all but people dont want to go anywhere near that stuff. I know because I didnt want to go anywhere near spirituality. I dont know how you express it differently. I know it cant be done through commercial means. It has been tried so many times such as Stimulin and people like that who started off by saying good things. Then they go commercial and it all disappears. Like Grandmaster Flash who brings out one good record an the rest is utter crap.
NC: One good record is better than nothing!
S: Yeah it is but `I felt really pissed off about that record The Message. I thought this bloke could really do it. If he kept putting records out like that he could say something to people. We cant reach that black dancing audience, well never do it in a million years but he can. But then you listen to his other stuff and its all the usual rubbish about wanting to have a big car and fur coats, taking loads of cocaine.
NC: To reach a wider audience why not do a Jim Reeves style record. His records sell millions.
J: Its the content of his lyrics as to what type of people go for it. His audience want to hear I love you .
NC: Would you say people have turned to his music for escapism? Why not use that instead of closing another door?
S: Were not an entertainment band. People come to our gigs, jump around and have a good time. But they cant, and I refuse to believe, escape whats on that video screen, film of Vietnamese babies being shovelled into graves. Im not interested in entertaining people. I want to be the worst fucking noise that ever was and I want those bastards to know.
J: It does get through even to those just jumping around. At some point some image they see that night they will remember and it may lodge in their mind.
NC: How do you know which way it will push them?
S: Just after we put out Reality Asylum this christian bloke wrote to us and said Im really glad you put that record out cos thats strengthened my faith. It was really weird. You have to take that risk all the time. I dont believe, not even the most vicious macho squaddie type will stand and watch a baby bunged into a pit and then do it themselves.
NC: The Nazis did it to the Jews. Soldiers were told to do something and they did it.
S: perhaps I think to highly of human nature.
NC: How do you reach the passive observer, the person that doesnt go to gigs or necessarily listen to music - the majority in other words?
S: If they are not buying records or dont know who you are then theres nothing to go on.
NC: Why not write a book, it stands to reach more or different people. Why music?
S: Its just too much you cant envelope the whole world in your arms. You just cant do it, you just cant stretch your arms far enough.
NC: Does selling records finance everything? Do they pay for themselves and the rent here?
S: What we pay rent from is Stations of the Crass which has been the best selling record weve put out. Thats the one that pays our rent, its actually making a profit. But all the others are set ups so they will pay for the next one we put out.
J: It finances things like the printing press, mail, printing posters, getting the covers done. Theres a lot it has to cover. The rent and our food is pretty small compared to that.
NC: how self sufficient are you, do you grow your own stuff?
J: WIth the band theres not so much time time available to devote yourselves to being totally self sufficient as far as food goes. It will take every hour of every day of your life if you want to do that. So we do as much as we can. Most of our food in the summer is grown from the garden. We get things like rice and that sort of stuff in bulk from wholesalers which works out very cheap.
NC: Alot of your audience go out to work, some are still at school, some are unemployed. You're living a completely different lifestyle to most people that come to your gigs. Do yo think youre in touch with what goes on?
J: Weve been through it in certain ways. Weve been to school, had to work at some time and we still work now and its a bloody sight harder to do this work than it is to go out picking potatoes or do a job with a designated time. Our work now comes in any old how and is constant. Nobody has had a holiday, well brief weekends here and there, nobody has really had a rest for years. Its constantly demanding.
NC: There are unemployed people who want to get jobs. To get a job you need to conform.
S: Oh yes, you obviously need money. Ive been thinking about getting a job recently to get a bit of pocket money. But as long as youve got the suss and dignity not to get fucked over, try it.
NC: But when you need money youre prepared to be trodden on.
J: Thats the whole condition of money. The whole world has always existed with the idea of money. So theres always this element of being fucked over and trodden on, giving up your time to do shitty stupid work. But its really hard to do away with that unless you go to the hills. So the best thing to do is have as little to do with it as possible.
NC: But youre still doing it.
J: Still doing it yes. But if you realise its limitations.
NC: People overcome the limitations of work by gaining as much money as possible to live as easily as they can to have a cushy life.
J: Thats being totally immersed and carrying on with the whole thing. Working for those things, which means you have to work harder, you just enter the consumerist ethic.
NC: Thats the way people escape it.
J: Its a contradiction. Somebody like me, I just work for the amount of money I need for a little while. I dont actually need big cars and TV.
NC: But those things make life easier.
S: But at some point you have to stand up and say this is a load of shit and somethings got to fucking change round here otherwise Ill go crazy.
NC: How much emphasis do you put on the music over lyrics? The music seems secondary.
J: I used to think it was but I dont think it is anymore. Its complimentary. The people in the band have become better at playing their instruments after 7 years. You cant really avoid improving. Now the music and lyrics are equally as important. The ideas of the lyrics are obviously the most important because thats what we are doing it for, to get an idea across.
NC: No instrumental track?
J: I dont think so
NC: People expect a certain thing on the Crass label and won't listen to anything else.
S: Youre right. Thats why Im on about saying punk is so conservative. The minute you do something over that little imaginary line they dont want to fucking know.
J: Its hard to break that. Weve been constantly trying to break it all the way through since we did the first Feeding of the 5000. We put out Asylum which is totally different. Weve always done things that are unpredictable. We brought out Penis Envy and people went errr dont like it, theres women singing. Then Christ which is different again. Weve never actually pandered to the punk thing but those people do tend to hang round our gigs.
NC: Whats the purpose of a Crass record?
J: It has a certain standard of quality, lyrically, musically and visually with the whole cover. Its to allow people space to put out their views and ideas.
NC: Whats it ment to do for other people?
J: Give them a bit of inspiration.
NC: To understand anarchy and live it you have to go through a number of other philosophies to appreciate what it is. Only from that educated position can you call yourself an anarchist. Because this is a lifelong process, do you think it is one of the reasons why it is so hard to grasp what you're saying, especially at a gig?
J: Our sort of stuff is a stepping stone.
NC: A step to high because its so involved.
J: Our material is enormously varied. Compare Banned from the Roxy and those sort of songs with Christ Reality Asylum which is an incredibly complicated and difficult statement to unravel. Every track is varied.
NC: Varied by conscious attempt?
J: I dont know if its conscious, its just what we feel. From a very simplistic up to a complicated and sophisticated level its just various ways of putting out the same idea. I dont believe in condescending to people because they dont understand. I remember particularly when I was very young picking up books and trying to read them, although I didnt understand what they said, there was something exciting about them. Then a few years later I would find out what it was I found exciting and inspiring and understand what was being said. Thats how I feel our gigs work, you cant take it all in at once, maybe some of it will filter through later.
...and with a loud clunk the tape recorder switched itself off, we'd run out of tape. We carried on talking for the rest of the afternoon during which Penny joined us. Before we knew it, it was time to go home. A lot had been said, there was a lot to think about...