Cabbage – Interview
With the release of their new EP The Extended Play Of Cruelty on Friday in the midst of the festival season and ahead of a Healing Brexit Towns tour in September, Cabbage (who were first written about in this Louder Than War piece here) confirm their position as the hardest working band in the country. Dave Brown from Louder Than War caught up with Lee and Joe at Stalybridge station to talk about the EP, their plans for their debut album and the truth about the controversial incident in London earlier this year that saw Lee wrongly accused on social media and in the press of sexual assault and the subsequent fallout.
The new EP is coming out digitally on Friday. You recorded it with James Skelly, whose label Skeleton Key had put out your previous three Eps, but you hadn’t worked with him before. How’s that come about that you’re now signed to Infectious and finally working with James?
Lee : It’s the same management, The Coral and us are managed by SJM. The initial plan with the collection of EPs that became the compilation was to work with James on them, but when he heard the songs and the level that the band were at then, his idea was that we go at it alone and once we’d released it, he felt it was his time to intervene.
There was a lot of raw energy that came from gigs around that time in those songs that comes through in the recorded versions.
I imagine that’s what his plan was. He didn’t want us to jump into a really heavy level of production too early. His quote was “I can’t do anything with that. Go and record it alone independently and come back with it” and for us, we celebrated in the van because that was exactly what we wanted. And it’s really good now to go into a heavier production scheme with him because that’s a completely different experience.
Have you been recording up at Parr Street (in Liverpool) with him?
Lee : Yeah, we did Gibraltar Ape with him and we’ve been sporadically recording with him throughout 2017. We’ve actually two or three songs for the debut album recorded with him, but we’re going back in September to complete the rest of the album. This is sort of a stopgap now, the songs that fell into our lap at the right time.
Does it actually feel like you’re recording a debut album though? You’ve had so much stuff out already, twenty-four songs with this EP?
Joe : I’ve been saying for a while now we’ve sort of shot ourselves in the foot, because our difficult second album has become our debut album. There’s that much material out there, but we did have to develop of our own accord. Prior to this we recorded with Ding, who was brilliant. It was cheaper to record in his studios than it was for rehearsal rooms. He’s not so hands on though as James’ approach and James wanted us to forge our own path prior to doing something with us as we start with our debut album. But there’s that much music out there, people can decide what is the debut album for themselves.
The twenty-four songs were us finding our feet. We’ve only been together twenty months so we’re at that point where a band would normally record their debut album. Most bands would take those songs we’ve written across, but we feel we’ve progressed enough that we’re ready to write more.
So you’re not going to take any of them for the debut record?
Lee : We may take two from this EP, but even then we’re apprehensive about that. If we do a ten or eleven track album, there’ll be nine or ten new songs on there.
Joe : I think people are so used to us releasing so much new material that we can’t really work backwards now.
Are you still writing at that sort of rate, obviously you’ve got way less time now with the releases and all the touring you’ve been doing?
Lee : Festivals have been a god-send really. We’re working all weekend, but that gives us the opportunity to be in the rehearsal studio all week, so we’re pretty much doing six days a week at the moment, but that’s what we signed up for. I’d say we’ve got ten or eleven tracks now that we’ve demoed for the album and we’re taking it away from being a demo, on a computer, into the live room ready to work with James on them.
How do you write them? Is it something you do together or do people bring songs to the rest of the band?
Joe : It’s totally collaborative. Ultimately we all rely on others to collaborate with us to get to the finished product. We have songs at the moment that we’re rehearsing that don’t have any lyrics for them at the moment. I never ever want to rush the lyrics or get something down I’m not happy with. I should probably work faster, but I want to go through several versions before settling on something. But we all work differently. Eoghan will have several pieces of music going on, while Lee starts with a title, don’t you, and then you envisage the idea in your head and work backward. I prefer to start with hooks and melodies and work on lyrics last as it takes me time to decide on it.
That’s why all the royalties are split five ways, there’s no set songwriter.
You’ve signed to Infectious. Does that change the game a bit in terms of what’s expected, make you feel any more pressure?
Lee : We thought it would, but not really. The deal we’ve signed with them is an artists service deal which is quite popular these days so they’re sort of “we’re here to help you” in that sort of way.
Joe : Sometimes when a major label gets involved, they wipe everything you’ve done and start again, but they weren’t like that, they bought into everything we’d done. They said they like our current back catalogue and want us to build on that because they genuinely like what’s out there already and they don’t want to fuck with any of that.
And you’ve built it yourselves to a level where you can play The Ritz and Scala, a pretty big level already that they can pick up from
Lee : Yeah, that was a very impressive three days for us that, personally. Every young musician from the Greater Manchester area must target themselves with playing The Ritz one day. It was a massive massive bucket list thing for us, a proper musician’s venue.
The songs on the current EP are quite diverse aren’t they in their subject matter. Could you tell us a little about A Celebration Of A Disease and its links to Cosey Fanni Tutti?
Lee : She set me on the path to the exposition. She was involved in pornography in the 1970s and one particular quote from her autobiography that someone looking from the outside into the industry in that period, it would be a vulgar, violent, vulgar scene, but that it wasn’t and they used it as a kind of art form. But now it is, it’s got the lad culture where there’s so much available pornography in lad culture and it’s so engrained to it that it impacts on the expectation of a relationship between a man and woman. It’s that idea that masturbation is a celebration, but a celebration of a disease. Pornography has become a misogynistic culture and it has a very negative effect on relationships and that was the idea that I was running with.
Is that the sort of thing that inspires you to write lyrics, people’s books, people’s experiences?
Lee : That’s what Joe said when he talked about how I write. I get an exposition and then the title falls into my hand and actually Eoghan wrote the music for it and I thought that the two would go really well together and that’s how it came about.
A Network Betrayal is a very different subject matter that mixes your own experiences of getting on a train with the fucked up mish mash of a rail system that we have. As we talk, there’s a queue of trains outside the window at Stalybridge station just to prove the point as trains grind to a halt.
Lee : It’s very much tongue-in-cheek.
Joe : Yeah, very much tongue-in-cheek. The ultimate message is about the privatisation of public services. I had the music for it last summer. I’m very slow in that respect, I recognise that. When you’re pressured into something it can turn out really well, but equally you don’t want to look back and think it could be so much better. We know we can only write about things we truly know about and it takes time to realise something that’s in front of your face. Surrealist fiction writers like Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett, they take something that everyone sees, that’s mundane to so many people and make the fact that they observe it, write it down and make it comical and that’s special because everyone sees it. Life’s so fast and it moves so quickly.
It’s interesting you talk about humour. There’s a lot of that in your songs. A Network Betrayal has it, Dinner Lady definitely does running through it and then there’ s Free Steven Avery of course, which I guess you can’t play anymore.
Lee : (laughs) It sort of became a parody for us that song once Donald Trump came into power. We thought we were targeting this buffoon and then he became President of the United States and the joke was on us.
It could have an impact on your ability to tour the US though?
Lee : South by South West was on the cards, but we thought it was possibly a waste of time at that particular point in time, so 2018 looks more likely. But as they use social media so much more now as a way of whether a person is diagnosed as suitable for a visa could be an issue.
Joe : I don’t think the words “Death to Donald Trump” are going to stand us in too good stead. But that was one of those songs where I didn’t take too long over the lyrics. I thought at that point I was going to do a drunken country side project as all I was writing were country songs. I guess you go through phases, or you get a block. There was one called Golden Brandy that we used to open with. That one there was a melody and we never really changed it. And as you said, Donald Trump was really a no one when we wrote that, there was a huge disbelief when he became President.
Lee : It was ten months before he was voted in and there were ten or more Republican candidates so we never thought he’d even make the nomination let alone become President. He was coming out with ridiculous remarks and he was a pretty easy target. We took our chances.
There was a lot of activity on social media and accusations around your support shows with Kasabian in London back in April with allegations being made of sexual assault by Lee against a girl in the audience at the Wednesday night show. Could you tell us what happened then?
Lee : Yeah. Social media showed its true colours. We’d been given the Kasabian tour support and we’d come up with this set for the tour with Kevin as the set-closer for quite a while. Every night I’d come down to the barrier, which I’d do at our own gigs, but looking back at it, that’s where I made the mistake. Throughout the tour, we got some good receptions, but mainly I don’t think people got us, or didn’t like us as it’s a very different audience.
My mistake, looking back, is that the barrier was the wrong place for me to be because the crowd didn’t appreciate it. The Tuesday night, I followed suit, got down to the barrier and there was a fella there who clearly looked annoyed. The next night I did the same and he was there again and he pulled on my shirt. As I was singing there was a group of lads who threw a load of obscenities at me so I gave it them back and got back on stage and then we walked off at the end of the song.
The bouncers then said there’s a guy out there who’s very angry about you going down there and they were going to escort him out for pulling on your shirt, but he wants to make a complaint. So we thought the best thing to do was to go out and talk to him rather than him make that complaint or us have him kicked out. So I went out, he was pretty annoyed, he said I’d gone down on the barrier on the Tuesday, got in everyone’s face and touched his daughter’s hair. And then on the Wednesday I came down to the barrier again. I apologised and said that I was trying to go down there to engage with the crowd and that I was sorry that I offended you. He said he didn’t think I should be doing it at an all ages gig and I took that on board and fair enough, with that sort of crowd I shouldn’t. I apologised again and we shook hands and thought that was it, complaint over.
Then we woke up to a twitter storm. I don’t know how the person that posted the tweet came to this information as she explained she witnessed Tuesday’s events on Wednesday so immediately there was a red flag flying about why she was claiming to have seen Tuesday’s events at Wednesday’s show.
It’s a big step from what you’ve told us to what the accusation was.
Lee : I had broken my pelvis three weeks before and it was difficult for me to walk, people thought I was drunk or off my face when I wasn’t. There were all sorts of vulgar comments being posted on social media. After what happened on twitter, the father was contacted by the venue and he confirmed there was no assault, of any kind.
There was a lot made of the statement that you had your hands down your pants in a lot of the social media postings and that being linked to the claims of sexual assault
Lee : I’m not defending it, but I come from a place where doing that’s commonplace. It’s something I did unconsciously. But I wear boxers that are tight underneath there, I wasn’t doing anything phallic or sexual or anything like that, and I certainly don’t do it anymore.
It is a massively emotive subject though, sexual assault, and a real growing problem at gigs for reasons of that lad culture that we talked about earlier.
Lee : Yes, and the annoying thing now is that the attention has been taken away by this witch hunt from the abuse that is happening at gigs in the crowd because everyone is watching the guy on stage. It’s a pretty preposterous claim that someone would attempt to do that and get away with it in front of 2,000 people.
The internet is full of horrible stories about assaults at gigs, women being unsafe because of the behaviour of men in the audience and this felt like they’d got someone bang to rights if they ignored what had actually happened. There was one article in particular that said even if you were innocent, anyone defending you was detrimental to women everywhere.
Lee : That’s where it gets even more difficult. For someone who’s politically active, who’s spent time planning on how to try and make society better, this is why we have the type of lyrics we do. For someone to write something like that about me without knowing the facts is really disappointing. There’s been a few musicians as well who’ve taken advantage of the situation to try and better their career or whatever reason and that’s a serious problem that people will use a genuine issue in society for their own benefit.
So for the avoidance of any doubt, there was no allegation or even suggestion of sexual assault made by the father?
Lee : No, there was none.
We contacted the person who wrote the tweet and said to them for starters that what they’d written wasn’t true, because she wasn’t even at the night the incident she alleged happened, but that we wanted to discuss the issue rather than take it further and we got completely ignored.
We then contacted Safe Gigs For Women who I can only describe as unbelievably fantastic. I met up with Mel in London and we had a very in-depth conversation. She gave me some pointers, asked me how I was, was really caring. At the time I took it on the chin, I got into this game and I knew there would be abuse, but wasn’t expecting anything quite like that.
The most annoying thing is that these people on the internet who have the privilege to say these types of things, they completely forget that I’ve got a mother and father. I’ve never done much with my life before Cabbage, I’ve plodded along, trying to be a musician and now Cabbage has taken off, she follows us and she had to read all that about her son. I was on the phone to her straight away to explain to her what had really happened. She’s still not over it, there was a time when we didn’t talk for a month afterwards because it completely ruined her life for a while.
This is where we’re talking about humanity. It’s bizarre to say the least.
It was very black and white the whole discussion – you were either completely innocent or a sex offender – and that’s what social media does. There’s no black and white any more. It’s like that with Corbyn, what’s going on with Theresa May and the DUP. There’s no debate, no reasonableness.
Lee : Social media has proved to be a place at the end of society, there’s no room for humanity. Celebrities are going off it because of abuse. Angela Rayner, a really fantastic wonderful MP for Ashton, is getting all sorts of abuse for the way she talks and the way she looks. How someone can write a comment like that on there on a subject matter that’s seriously important to society and women’s place in society and think they’re doing something good is beyond me and so paradoxical.
Joe : Six months ago people were calling us social heroes for attacking The Sun, and six months later it’s them and their cronies attacking us. And they’ll move on to the next person they want to try and ruin when they’re done with us. It feels like at the moment people who are guilty until proven innocent.
Lee : There’s a Mark Twain phrase that said “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on” that rings true today.
It goes back to the subject matter of A Celebration Of A Disease though, that lad culture, that misogyny that goes unchecked and uncontrolled on what is essentially an open anonymous forum. And people seem to think they can validate it.
Lee : I’ve been speaking to Safe Gigs For Women and there’s talk of me going along with them to be a case study. It’s got the point where this is becoming, well it has been for a while, a real problem that needs to be addressed.
Joe : The issue we had did distract from those real issues of assault at gigs. And there was no concern expressed for the alleged victim. It felt like certain people were using it to press their own agendas and boost their own profile and be seen as someone who’s intelligent, PC and cares. The type of person who will post a petition on line to make it look like they’re virtuous and care about things, but will not actively campaign or take part in protests or inquire enough to get to the actual facts of what happened or is happening.
Lee : No one once mentioned the alleged victim. I’d speak to anyone openly face to face about it. I don’t understand why the person who posted the tweet won’t talk to me so we can make a positive out of this situation. To me that feels like I’ve been targeted and for what reason I don’t know. It’s the same with the people in the bands, they are silent when it comes to face to face, but for their own social media gain, they’re all over it.
Joe : As you said before though, it’s like that across a lot of things, people aren’t willing to engage face to face and discuss things and have a positive debate. Young conservatives aren’t willing to do that and therefore we can’t move forward.
Lee : It feels like liberal views have become fascist.
That’s not just conservatives though, there’s an element of the support around Corbyn who absolutely refuse to have any sort of debate and resort to insults like Red Tory if anyone dares to dispute anything they’re saying.
Lee : Which baffles me because Corbyn is one of the most approachable and open to debate people going. I’m not sure that’s just social media that’s made people so violent to each other.
Moving on, you’re doing a tour called Brexit Town Healing in September and October. How did you come to call it that?
Joe : I think it’s important to play places that aren’t the most obvious towns to play. I think we investigated it to see if it’d work. I’m from an obscure place called Settle and no one ever plays there.
Lee : It’s completely stolen from Stewart Lee, I came up with the title, but it’s his idea. He’s a regular Guardian writer and he went to these smaller towns. Everyone’s much more multicultural in cities, yet in towns people are much more English and that’s where the heart of the leave vote was. With Brexit negotiations under way, I thought it would be a good thing for a socialist band to go out to these towns and see how we go down and if we get the same reaction. Sleaford Mods did something similar and they have views on paper that aren’t that far away from ours. Loads of people have written to us since telling us their town voted Leave and we should go there.
You’re going out with The Blinders and Queen Zee And The Sasstones on that tour. Do you think it’s a provocative move taking out a transgender act on a rock and roll tour where the audience reaction might be difficult?
Lee : Me and Zee are working on a project together at the moment, we’re going to be covering a song that’s only available on the tour. Zee’s very active in the Action For Trans Health organisation and we thought we’d do this and the proceeds would go for charity. The thing I like most about Queen Zee, not that she’s ever been fully aware of who she is, but the band has shone through and she’s really now this big figurehead and the band are getting better and better. The Blinders, the country’s seen it now, they’re absolutely killing it. They took it to the big stage, there was a fantastic crowd.
Joe : There’s a counter-culture growing amongst young people and with Strange Bones that night felt like it was evidence of it. It’s still frowned upon, young people getting involved in politics, because people think they have a naïve view. It doesn’t matter who they vote for as long as they vote.
Young people are turning more and more on to the fact that media are telling them lies and its influence is lessening because there’s no definitive voice. Young people are making their own minds up and that’s shown in the results of the election.
Lee : It’s still nowhere near enough though. They’re still turning the working class on the working class. No one would ever have thought that after months of “terrorist sympathiser” slandering of Corbyn that Theresa May would ever team up with the DUP ex-terrorists. It was the most desperate revolting plea that I’ve ever seen, but that’s where we are.
The Extended Play Of Cruelty EP is out now digitally – iTunes link here – and is released on 10″ vinyl and CD on August 25.
The issue of sexual assaults on women at concerts, and in society in general, is a growing one and setting the facts straight about this particular incident does not seek to downplay the seriousness of the situation. If you see something that doesn’t look right, or someone is clearly upset by the attention of others, do something, it is every one of our responsibility to intervene. Safe Gigs For Women was set up by a group of regular gig goers with the aim of creating a safer and less hostile environment at concerts through education, attending events and providing information and support. Their website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.