Brittan’s Amebix is one of the first bands to blend anarcho-punk and heavy metal music. Formed in 1978, and split in 1987, they recently reunited as of 2008.
Crusties both young and old packed the Trocadero venues to capacity for the legendary hardcore punk band Amebix, uniting to go on tour for the first time in twenty-two years. This was a dream come true for punks young and old who have wanted to see the glory that is Amebix live.
The heavily influential sound of Amebix laid the foundation for crust punk. It’s hypnotic and haunting melodies merge the harsh cold brutality of metal with the raw punk edge of anger, calling out injustice. All over the US, punks united to witness their unforgettable shows. The venues were flooded with a sea of black leather and metal studs as the crowd sang along with Amebix singer Rob Miller, “Arise!”
We were honored enough to be able to interview vocalist, Rob Miller, from the island of Skye, after their highly anticipated US tour.
Interview with Amebix vocalist Rob Miller by Roya Butler.
Roya Butler: Regarding your song, “Largactyl,” can you give us the background story of how that song was written? Also, how do you feel about overmedication of children today? Lastly, what does the last lyric of “Largactyl” mean: “At 21 they’ll be coming for you”?
Rob Miller: “Largactyl” was written about our first drummer Martin, who was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic after we left his place in Devon. The medication they put him on was Largactyl, which seemed extreme for someone essentially so gentle. The lyric is: “Senility at 21…they’ll be coming for you, we were still young”- it means that the men in white coats are coming. I think there is a lot of over diagnosis of social problems that didn’t really exist when I was a kid. If you were a pain in the ass you got a punch. Sorted.
RB: Can you tell me the story behind the song “Beyond the Sun?” It’s my personal favorite.
Rob: It is basically homage to friends who died along our way some through drugs, others through motorcycles. I like it as an emotionally driven song, but also find it a bit too personal at times. My ex died a few months ago riding her trike; she had lost one leg in an accident a few years ago after I left. And she really got me into the whole bike thing again after Bristol (where Amebix lived before moving out to Radstock near Bath, where we recorded Arise). So my son, Richard, is dealing with the loss of his mother now and feeling alone. She was a very tough woman; the split with her is what drove me to move to Skye twenty years ago almost. She taught me a few things, not the easiest person in the world, but a real warrior spirit.
RB: “Beyond the Sun” has a very heavy feeling of melancholy. A cold harshness seems to pervade through out all of your music. Even “Drink and be Merry” ends on the dark note of “For tomorrow, we may die.” Was this dark outlook on life a reflection of the squatter lifestyle that the band lived while writing these songs?
Rob: Yes, but there is also a positive side to these songs. “Drink and Be Merry” is a statement that things can be very tough around you but you must still seize the day and make the best that you can from it. “The Darkest Hour” actually gave hope to one guy when he was going to commit suicide. He wrote to me that he was going to throw himself off the roof and someone in a flat below was playing this and he “got it.” I have a large amount of very personal emails from people who say what a significant and positive impact Amebix was in their lives. For a long time I was very uncertain about what we had done, whether anyone understood us, as there was no feedback at all when we were first around. We had a very, very small audience, most of them reluctant; Amebix is a phenomenon, a band that has surprisingly achieved a cult status over the Years. Playing to sold out Venues in every City in the US was totally amazing for us.
RB: You are cited as creating crust punk. How does it feel like to have made such an impact?
Rob: I don’t feel comfortable being tagged with that label. I think Amebix was always a band that stood apart from our contemporaries, in our approach, attitude and unwillingness to conform to “scene” parameters. I think the term “crust punk” is not something that we consider ourselves to be part of. Crusty was a term used in Bristol to denote the punks who were really living on the street- not the studs and leather guys who would spike their hair up on the weekends, but that is all. People seem too ready to adopt a packaged lifestyle complete with uniform and prescribed political belief structures that I personally find very claustrophobic. We are not interested in being defined by a genre. If anything, we are in our own selves complete and don’t need to be labeled. We rose from the original punk scene to define our own music in our own way. Motorhead are just Motorhead, Killing Joke are Killing Joke, and Amebix are just Amebix. We don’t need to feel secure in our nest.
RB: While squatting, you must have struggled for basic needs: food and shelter. How were you able to gather the equipment to make your music?
Rob: Our equipment was always basic. We would drag guitars around with us, try and get secure places to put things in, but generally it would be a case of borrowing from other bands whilst we were playing. We came to Bristol with a bass and a guitar and a synthesizer, and managed to save money to buy leads and strings etc when they were needed (although I am sure I only ever changed my bass strings about four times in as many years). It was always a bit of a struggle, but between ourselves and Disorder we managed to play.
RB: I understand that you squatted with Disorder. Were your bands friends and influential on each other? Do you keep in touch?
Rob: We shared the same drummer for some time, but the two bands were distinctly different. I didn’t like any of the thrash/fast music at that time- even Discharge. I preferred “Ain’t No Feeble Bastard” to any other song because it had pace and power; I saw the hardcore stuff as dissipating power. We were all the best of friends regardless, and played a lot of gigs together. We shared whatever we had with one another. I still talk with Boobs and Steve.
RB: Living the squatter life sounds like it was cold, hard, and depressing. Is the dark tone that pervades throughout all yours songs that you wrote at that time a reflection of that life?
Rob: I think “Winter” is a great summary of those times- the harsh life on the streets in the winter time. There is certainly bleakness about some of our early music that is very apparent…desperate times.
RB: You’ve lived by the “No Gods, No Masters” creed for decades. How has its meaning changed over the years?
Rob: My views on most things have stayed consistent. “No Gods, No Masters” is open to interpretation. For me, it is about Autonomy and following your own path, even if it leads away from others. It is ultimately about being true to you.
RB: Please tell me more of how tour reshaped, or refreshed your views of the punk scene.
Rob: Firstly we were amazed at the sheer number of people that came out to the shows. Pretty much every venue was sold out. People came from all different areas; one guy in Seattle commented that there are at least five distinct “scenes” there, and that show was the first one that he had ever witnessed people from all those scenes in the same place. It felt very unifying, and I am happy to see that Amebix had such a far reach. I was encouraged to see older people from the punk scene that had taken the original ethos and integrated that into their lives, manifesting that spirit in independent radio, magazines, and websites.
When the band split in 1987, the entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I found the mentality of the scene in the UK really claustrophobic in a lot of respects. For me it seemed to turn in on itself and demand conformity to a new set of rules- which is exactly what we were fighting against. We are faced with this now as well, when some people assume that Amebix should be playing in squats for beer money all over Europe, when it isn’t like that for us anymore.
We enjoy playing again, and want to express that by putting on a solid show. It’s important for us to attract different people from all over. Our message was always a universal one, not to be jealously owned by a select group. Punk Rock, to me, opened everything up as possible, and I was so happy to see that manifest in people’s lives on our last Visit to the U.S. The anarcho-punk scene in the UK had a few positive effects, in that people were encouraged to DIY, but the constant struggle for security led to people forming more and more obscure cliques, and forgetting that the message goes outwards and not inwards.
RB: Your brand of anarchism seems to be meant to be implemented on a personal level. How do you feel about those anarchist thinkers who feel that an overhaul is needed on the structure of society itself?
Rob: Each to their own. I understand people’s desires to make the world conform to their will, but it is also important to recognize the will of others and not arbitrarily impose yours.
RB: Why were you initially called “The Band with No Name?”
Rob: It was after the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, where he was “the man with no name.” It just tickled us a bit.
RB: Then you created the name Amebix, meaning simplicity (coming from the basic form of life amoeba)?
Rob: Yes, it was to indicate that we were a very basic musical unit.
RB: What was it like meeting the legendary Jello Biafra?
Rob: Fine. He was very enthusiastic about us and gave us a break to release Arise. We had him on stage in SF to sing “Largactyl.”
RB: How’s it like living on the Isle of Skye?
Rob: It is both difficult and amazing, The winters are long, cold, and dark, offset by long days in the summer. Here, there is some of the most magnificent scenery in the world, and the freedom to roam wherever I like. I have walked and camped all over this island, and the Outer Hebrides. I have grown to love the wilderness and the solitude that it offers, as well as a good fire in the woods with friends. It is somewhere that I would be haunted by if I ever left, and has become a part of my soul as much as Devon–where I grew up.
RB: Do you have a sword shop in Skye?
Rob: I have made swords for the past eighteen years here on Skye, training myself in the art of the medieval sword smith. This has brought me to be well recognized in my field. It is a hard job but very creative. [Here’s the website: www.castlekeep.co.uk]
RB: You reissued your last album Monolith, do you think you’ll re-record Arise?
Rob: No. Arise 2 was released a few years ago with the bonus tracks. Monolith may see a vinyl release one day. But for now, we are concentrating on recording new material.
RB: Tell us about your influences such as Killing Joke.
Rob: We saw KJ in Trafalgar square in 1980 at a CND rally. They had a profound influence on us, as they manifested energy in such a powerful manner- it was almost psychotic. Black Sabbath also a huge influence, as well as the bands we grew up with: T Rex, Bowie, Iggy, etc.
RB: Have you heard the bands Converge or Bane? Do you think some new bands are becoming more courageous as the hardcore bands were in the late 80s, to rip through the molds?
Rob: I cannot answer that question; I have not had any contact with music for over 20 years.
RB: Can you tell us about the new compilation that you released, No Sanctuary: The Spiderleg Recordings?
Rob: Yes, it was the result of trying to re-claim our master tapes from our first three releases. It took some time, but the new staff at Southern were very helpful, and we were able to get the tapes back and release them on one CD/LP. They have been boosted and cleaned up a bit, but essentially the same. It’s a good package that Jello has taken a lot of care into putting together. As a record, it is more primitive than our later material but still very visceral.
RB: Can you tell us about your DVD Risen? When do you plan to release it? I heard it will include interviews and live footage.
Rob: The DVD is now released and receiving a favorable response. It is the labor of Roy Wallace, who put the project together as a tribute, and as a consequence brought Stig and I together with Roy Mayorga, which has brought the band back to life. We are all very happy to be taking things forward from here.
–Interview by Roya Butler