Ruts DC at The Underworld Camden
16th September 2016
Photo: Andy Miller
In the studio, punk luminaries and collaborators past and present (Captain Sensible, Jake Burns, Kirk Brandon as well as self-confessed super fan, Henry Rollins) contributed to make a great multi-layered album, more diverse in its musical content than any other album that they have produced. In stark contrast to the wonderful 2013 album 'Rhythm Collision Volume 2', a follow up to 1982's 'Rhythm Collision, wait for it.... Volume 1', 'Music Must Destroy' sets aside the dub to return to a rock sound, making it a natural follow up to the dark brilliance of 1981's 'Animal Now' album.
Since coming back together in 2011, Ruts DC have been nothing if not prolific with two studio albums and a live album under their belts already, with a clutch of singles and an in depth biography to boot. In this wealth of new material both Segs and Ruffy have been resolute in the requirement that everything that they do must add to the legacy of The Ruts whilst moving the band ever forwards.
On our second meeting at The Fleece in Bristol several years ago Segs was genuinely put out that his pass made reference to The Ruts rather than Ruts DC, to the extent that he borrowed a marker pen in order to correct his pass. Such was his determination that the band should never be viewed as a punk nostalgia act! In those early gigs they made sure that they could never be pigeon holed as such by kicking off the set with tracks such as 'Whatever We Do' and 'Weak Heart' as well as a generous serving of material from 'Animal Now' thereby challenging a fair proportion of the audience there to see 'Babylon's Burning' and 'Staring At The Rude Boys' (which they got in the fullness of time).
The band's work since 2011 shouts out that they are back, still a bit miffed by what they see around them (to put it mildly) and more than ready to carry a banner for those that cannot voice dissent about the various failings of compassion, justice and humanity that afflict them.
It is not my intention to review the album here. For those that are interested, a couple of review pieces are featured on the bands official website (http://www.theruts.co.uk).
Late last month, Ruts DC were confirmed as support for The Stranglers UK ‘Classic Collection’ tour so for those that have yet to see Ruts DC, an original slice of the late ‘70’s punk scene, I would urge you to forgo that last pre-gig pint in the pub over the road in order to see the band.
Instead of reviewing the album I asked Ruffy if he and Segs would be happy to answer a few questions about The Ruts/Ruts DC then and now as well as the new album. They were very happy to do this, so over a pint I pulled together some questions for their consideration and sent them over to Ruts DC H.Q. A few days later the answers furnished by this here rhythm section entered my inbox.
So here we have an exclusive interview with Segs and Ruffy of Ruts DC for your edification.
Photo: Andy Miller
'Break Down The Walls In The Government Halls Shouldn't We?'
Aural Sculptors: ‘Music Must Destroy’ is the third studio album from Ruts DC, but as a rock album it is a natural successor to 1981’s ‘Animal Now’. Clearly produced under very different circumstances, how did the writing and recording processes differ between these two albums?
Ruffy: Well, a lot of the songs on “Animal Now” began before Malcolm died, Segsy, Paul Fox and I were writing while Malcolm was going AWOL with his addictions. He was becoming extremely unreliable and was not turning up for rehearsals, and so we carried on writing without him, of course we all hoped that he would sort himself out and return to the fold so to speak. In fact the weekend before he died we all met up in Clapham and discussed working again.
Sadly he died on the following Monday and so the rest of the process of writing and recording were tainted by grief; not generally the best recipe for making our sort of music.
With this new album “Music Must Destroy” Segs and I have had 35 years of life and experience since recording “Animal Now”. As you know, this incarnation of Ruts DC started playing gigs together in 2011 and since then we have been honing and sharpening up our live show.
We have not been in a rush to record a new rock album; we have waited until we had the right material. We are totally aware of our heritage as well as the legacy of both Malcolm and Paul Fox. This time though there is no grieving.
It’s been a lot of hard work but ultimately worth it.
Segs: The prospect of writing a new Ruts DC “rock” album was a daunting one. I really never thought we would ever do it. After Rhythm Collision 2 we started gigging again, It was more reggae based obviously, so that we could play those tracks.
As we rehearsed, certain songs from Animal Now started to creep into the set. The natural progression was that as we jammed a few rocky type tunes –songs just developed –lyrics just came out. It was kind of how it was back in the old Ruts days at the squat where a lot of the tunes came from jams.
The time is always now.
Aural Sculptors: Your early career with The Ruts has featured prominently in the media in the last 12 months or so, with the success of the ‘Rock Against Racism’ book and exhibition and the recently published ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’. Nearly 30 years on, how do you view your involvement with RAR and what do you think it achieved?
Ruffy: I think it made a difference to some individuals, I know this because I meet them and their grown up children at our shows. At this time I think that “People Unite” matters more now than ever before.
Segs: It’s been interesting doing interviews about the RAR days; people like to re-write the story to suit their agenda. It wasn’t all skinheads and fights, there was a lot of unity amongst those involved, we made some lifelong friends and that’s how we prefer to remember those days. It’s also about now. Certain issues have improved but others have been created. The fight continues.
Aural Sculptors: As musicians who in former times have been at the sharp end of record company machinations, how important is the concept of crowd funding to bands such as Ruts DC?
Ruffy: It’s been amazing; it has given us an opportunity to make the record we wanted to.
We are quite hard on ourselves and our quality control is high. And top quality doesn’t come cheap!
The way we make records now is totally different, we have no A&R people telling us to go this way or that and the whole process now is like making art rather than product.
The individuals that pledge money drive me on to do the best work I possibly can, they have believed in us and laid their money down, It’s very humbling, so we do our very best for our people.
Segs: Imagine saying to 500 people –can you lend us £15 upwards and we’ll make an album –honestly!
I have been taken aback really by the amount of faith and patience –there have been a few sticky moments but it’s a great feeling to have delivered an album that most people are enjoying (apart from a few) ha!
'I've got something to show you, can you handle it?
When love comes as violence, you get used to it'
Aural Sculptors: Since coming back to us Ruts DC continue to rail against inequality and injustice, but the themes are now much broader than was the case in the band’s earlier material, ‘Mighty Soldier’ (on child soldiers) and ‘Second-Hand Child’ (focuses on the plight of children in abusive environments). Is this the result of broader horizons, as you have got older?
Segs: Older? Yes –wiser? I hope so. We’ve lived a lot more life for sure. Second Hand Child is about violent abuse and its about breaking the chain of that ongoing cycle .My friend has a “poignant” beer mat that says “Enjoy your pint –nobody knows you’re a wife beater.”
'Soft city lights, shining so bright come rescue me tonight'
Aural Sculptors: The song ‘Soft City Lights’ sounds to me like a response to ‘West One’ (I may be way off the mark I know!). Can you explain the origins of the song, and just who is the Executioner?
Ruffy: That’s interesting! It’s my wife’s favourite song and not “typical” of us at all, Leigh came in with the 12 string riff and we have been kicking the song about for more than a year. We decided that we would play the music we wanted on this record rather than just do one thing, for me it’s quite American sounding its quite poppy and a bit like the Byrds meet Tom Petty.
I’ll let Mr Segs answer the lyrical question.
Segs: It is like an unintentional continuation of West One as I’ve always related to Malcolm’s perspective in that song. I, for one am plagued by self-doubt although onstage and at gigs it may not come across like that.
When we started going out with Ruts DC again it was like the “compliments raining down“ after the shows. The downside of that is that you can get that “confidence draining “ feeling. It’s a high /low thing. I think many people experience that but it’s a positive song about negativity.
The “Executioner “ is your own self doubt and or indeed the doubt of other people, your parents, your teachers, even your class, and just saying life’s too short to succumb to that.
Aural Sculptors: Your long-standing collaborator, Henry Rollins, guests on the title track ‘Music Must Destroy’. How did this come about?
Ruffy: We asked him and he said yes!
Segs: As some may know, we did the show in 2007 with him and became friends. We’ve been to see his one man show on a few occasions now, It gets better and better. Henry did his vocals in L.A, then I went up to Edinburgh festival for the day so that we could film him for the Music Must Destroy video. He was kind enough to slot us in to his insanely busy schedule –and then went of to do his 2.5 hour show!
Aural Sculptors: Having now toured with the current line up as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, do you see any opportunities for the band to have another crack at the States, perhaps with Henry’s patronage?
Ruffy: I really hope so, we really want to but we don’t want to go as a nostalgic act. We are a proper group not a punk vaudeville act, yes, we are older but so what? There is only one alternative to getting older! I think I’m a better musician now and I have managed to keep cynicism at bay, anyway what about Iggy? Mr Pop’s “Post Punk Depression” is one of his best albums. With regard to the U.S though, I guess we are hoping for a vital U.S band to invite us to go on tour with them. You know who you are!
Segs: I’d love to --- You know where we are !
'You've got me under psychic attack, making me feel I've got a knife in my back, I feel it twisting between my blades,
And it's taking me down, yes I'm down, yes I'm down'
Aural Sculptors: The first single from the album, ‘Psychic Attack’ has an intensity that harks back to the early days of The Ruts and takes the listener right into the head of the central character. Mental well-being is set to become one of society’s biggest health concerns of the 21st century. What’s the story behind this one?
Segs: It’s a song about pressure. Once you allow it in, it can start to spiral down and take you with it.
Down, down, down. With me, luckily it’s a temporary condition. One morning I just started singing the lyrics with a Damned /Iggy Pop type of band in my head.
At the same time one of my close friends was going through a hard time, basically, she was getting daily grief from somebody who thought he had the right to mentally torture her. The song just came together from there. Most people are quite fragile creatures you know.
Aural Sculptors: Of great excitement to me is the fact that Ruts DC are now the confirmed tour support for The Stranglers’ UK dates in March. Have the paths of the two bands crossed much since 1977?
Ruffy: I know them a little as I co-produced their “Norfolk Coast” album in 2004 which was good fun and I went to see them a couple of times in the last couple of years. Their show is really good and I’m looking forward to the tour.
Segs: Me too, I like doing supports short sharp and good fun. There’s still a lot of people out there that are unaware that we are out there in any form. Of course the Stranglers embrace many styles but are still loosely labelled as “Punk “ I think we should fit in there rather nicely.
Aural Sculptors: Donald or Hilary?
Segs: Lethal business controls America.
My sincere thanks to Segs and Ruffy for taking the time to do this interview. See you soon!
My sincere thanks to Segs and Ruffy for taking the time to do this interview. See you soon!