Article by Sarah Williams. Photos by JJ Photography UK.
Consumed have been a huge influence for nearly two decades, having originated the classic UK skate-punk sound back in the late 90s. They’re known for their the two records they released on Fat Wreck Chords (Breakfast At Pappas in 1998 and Hit For Six in 1999), both of which showcase their solid, fast, hook-laden punk rock style, which has often been described as quintessentially British.
They went on hiatus in 2003 and reformed in 2015, after much cajoling from Steve from Vanilla Pod. Since then they’ve been popping up across the country and there’s exciting news of a new EP in the works. As I said when I saw them recently, old-school Consumed fans are in for at treat – then new material sounds like classic Consumed, but it’s even fresher and more exciting.
I met up with guitarist Will Burchell and drummer Chris Billam in the backroom at London’s New Cross Inn, just before Christmas. I quizzed them about their past regrets and future releases, how they’re briging their families into music, and how they feel the punk scene has changed in 20 years.
You reformed for Podstock in 2015 and you’ve done a few shows since. What’s kept you going?
- Chris Billam (drums): We just enjoyed playing Podstock. Also, when we played Podstock we were shit, so a lot of it was wanting to exorcise that demon! It was awful. Awful. I know the two of us were really nervous and I think it showed. We were out of our comfort zone. I was using the house kit, which was pretty shit, we were rushed for time, we had issues with the sound… we’d built it up to be this huge thing: The Return Of Consumed.
You’ve done a few shows since. I saw you at The Black Heart – that was great.
- Will Burchell (guitar): That was when it started to feel like a proper gig. After Podstock we were like, “Thank Christ that’s over.”
- Chris: We even started in the wrong key.
- Will: Yeah. We started with a song off a compilation that was never properly released. I don’t know why – there were loads of these really weird decisions. We started playing that song in the wrong key and it was just sloppy.
- Chris: It went downhill from there.
- Will: We’ve probably done 30 shows since then? 25?
- Chris: No… more like 20.
You’ve got a couple of shows lined up, particularly the skate-punk all-dayer in Ipswich in February.
- Will: It’s murder getting anything booked in. It’s a miracle we do anything because of the laborious internal dialogue we have just to get anything agreed.
- Chris: Yeah. It’s hard enough trying to get four of us in the same room. It’s not because we hate each other. It’s just life.
- Will: That’s the reason we’ve only got Liverpool and Ipswich and murmurings of this Japanese jaunt, although I’m not convinced that will happen. I feel like I’m tempting fate by saying it out loud.
- Chris: Also, we’re a bit jaded with it all. If we did play too much we’d lose interest in it all, and we don’t want to lose interest. As soon as we’re back to the dark side of playing we’ll probably say, “Nah, let’s not do this anymore.” Because why would you? We’re all established in our own lives and weekends are precious. At a weekend you have time to be with your partners and kids, or you can go play in a shitty venue somewhere to five people. You’ve got to get it right.
- Will: We’ve also taken gigs when it’s been a bit of an adventure. We’ve had a couple of jaunts over to Austria and Germany and those are fun travelling with friends.
You said three of you have kids. What about your taste outside of these gigs? Do you still listen to punk or have you matured into slower, more age-appropriate fare?
- Will: How dare you!
- Chris: I’m not going to lie. I put Kenny G on the other day. But then, by the same token, I took it off after about 30 seconds. I do still listen to punk but I’m very selective – I don’t mean that in an elitist way, it’s just that over the years you hear so much that you pare it down into what you’re really into.
- Will: I think you do reach an age where your music taste calcifies. When you’re a teenager you just consume music. We always talk about a record shop in Nottingham called Selectadisc. When punk was sort of breaking, you’d literally just devour new music. You’d learn about things from ‘thanks’ lists on record and you’d go in and say, “Right, I want all of the new whatever.” And then it would take three weeks to arrive.
- Chris: Now with the fact that you can download and stream things, it’s so disposable. Whereas if you’re doing it the way Will’s just described you’d think, “I’m going to like this record, so I’m going to give it as much time as I possibly can.” Whereas now you can just go, “Ah well, it sounds alright,” and move on to the next thing. Propagandhi are still doing it, they’re great. There are always going to be some great bands doing it.
- Will: There’s a handful. Clowns was the one I was thinking of – Bad Blood was the last album that really made me go ‘fucking hell’.
- Chris: That album just took my face off. It’s fucking amazing.
Are there any other current bands that you’re into?
- Chris: The latest Bronx album is brilliant, as was their last one before. That was pretty much all I listened to for a month after it was released. Will, did you like The Menzingers’ latest one?
- Will: I did like that, yeah. I like Against Me, but I prefer New Wave and White Crosses, even though that’s still 10 years ago. Those are the sort of bands where if they’ve got a new record out I’ll give it a listen.
- Chris: Let me see what else I’ve been listening to [checks iPod]… Run The Jewels. Pears! Dead Cross. The latest Clowns. Iron Reagan. Little Mix! I’m not joking there’s four albums on here… I’ve got girls.
If you’ve got your girls listening to Little Mix, have you tried getting them into punk? Do any of your kids listen to punk as well?
- Will: I’ve got four kids, and the eldest ones came along with Chris’ to a gig in Huddersfield. Mine are 13 and 11 and his girls would have been 9 and 8. It’s quite nice. I don’t play punk around the house; there’s a time and place for heavy music and metal like that.
- Chris: Whereas, when we sit down to eat I’ll always put music on. I’ll put on The Bronx album or whatever and the girls do like it. It’s quite sweet when you see them singing along. Any that we’ve mentioned (like Clowns) they do pick up on, but they like things like Little Mix that you’d expect them to like, which is the best way to be. I do know somebody that sort of force-feeds their child to create a mini version of themselves and it’s a bit… sketchy?
- Will: There will be friends on Facebook that are constantly uploading pictures of their kids in cool band t-shirts. I don’t know if I’d have ever been in a punk band if I hadn’t found my own way there. When your parents suggest something, it becomes immediately less interesting.
- Chris: I try and make a point of going across the board with genres. If I can I’ll take my girls to go and see bands. We’ve been to see Mad Caddies a couple of times and they’ll sit at the side of the stage, they’ll grab a set list from the band and get involved, wave at the crowd and what have ya.
Do you feel like the punk scene has changed over the last 20 years, or do you feel it’s the same as it was?
- Will: I was trying to think about this recently, and the thing that struck me was that the musicianship of the bands we’re playing with is better. There seems to be a resurgence of that technical, Strung Out influenced, Fat Wreck-ish stuff. There have been a couple of bands that just make me think ‘you bastards!’, they are so technical and really talented musicians. Whereas back in the day there were sloppy acts and bands were a bit more balls-out. It feels like people have come through music school now and there’s this corner of the punk scene…
- Chris: Like Almeida.
- Will: Almeida, Darko, all of them. Fair play to them, they’re lovely. But it’s like, fucking hell, you clever bastards.
- Chris: Are you saying it’s too clever?
- Will: Well, no, I mean no disrespect to them. I just think it’s unbelievable and they’re tight as fuck.
- Chris: I saw on the Ipswich bill and that we’re playing with Almeida and I just thought ‘shit’.
- Shout Louder: At least you’ve got Vanilla Pod in the middle to level things out.
- Will: Now we’re in our comfort zone!
- Shout Louder: Yeah, Almeida are known as a hard band to follow.
- Will: They’ll have no qualms about uploading guitar tutorials to Facebook – it’s a different world, you know? There are these technical powerhouses that didn’t exist before. Darko are clever bastards as well.
- Chris: It just makes us feel like we’re old ladies with fibromyalgia.
You’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on things. Was there one big event in your career that led to everything else? Presumably getting picked up by Fat Wreck?
- Chris: I don’t know if it’s been Chinese whispered over the years but, as far as I remember it, Baz, our old bass player, sent Duncan from Snuff our self-released EP, which he then played to Fat Mike. Fat Mike phoned the landline at Steve’s house when we were sat round there and he said, “I want to put your record out.” We couldn’t believe it was him. At that time, I mean, Steve was already in his early 50’s, but the rest of us were 22-23 and we listened to all those bands.
- When you’re sat together in a band who have only been together for a couple of years and a revered record label gets in contact, it’s a big deal. I don’t think we fully exploited it. We were a difficult band back then, we had issues that meant that we couldn’t tour as much as we wanted to. Interpersonal dynamics were tricky.
- I remember speaking to Fat Mike about it nearly a decade ago and saying, “I really appreciate what you did for us and I’m sorry that we didn’t take full advantage of it.” That’s how I felt. We weren’t in a position to tour for months on end, we could do six months maximum. But that would be the turning point for the band. There was the Tony Hawks’ thing as well, but that happened through Fat.
You are probably best known for that song. If you hadn’t been on the Tony Hawks’ soundtrack, but if you could be on the soundtrack to any other video game, which would you go for?
- Will: Peggle.
- Chris: Instead of An Ode to Joy! You’d want to be on one of the radio stations for Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t you? But there’s so many of them that you’d worry no one’s listened to your radio station. It’d be better to make it so there’s only one radio station that plays two songs, and we’re one of them.
- Will: Our answer is Peggle.
- Chris: Or Peggle 2. Aw shit!
You touched on this earlier, but if you had to do anything differently in your career as a band, what would it be?
- Chris: Appreciate what we had and what opportunity we were given, and make the most of it. With age comes wisdom, and when you are given a real chance like we were given, we should have gotten our shit together and done more touring and more promoting.
I still feel like you did pretty well.
- Will: We were idiots though. There were a couple of things we did that were really stupid.
- Chris: Oh god yeah. We used to smoke a ridiculous amount of weed minutes before we’d go on. Like, Manchester Academy supporting NOFX. You’d go on and just be like, “Aw, Jesus Christ.” Then fuck the first song up and get the fear… you look back and you think ‘what were you thinking?’.
- Will: It’s hindsight. You do those things when you’re young. Little niggles when you spend a lot of time together get bigger and bigger. I should have tried to say, “That’s annoyed me,” and then get out of the way. I regret not doing that more than I did. To be a properly healthy band you’d got to find ways of doing all of that. Instead you get grumpy and leave a tour on a downer.
- Chris: Also, we toured with Snuff and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – we did the UK and were due to go over to Europe, just after we’d released Pistols at Dawn. We mapped out the logistics of travelling between the venues in Europe and were like, “That’s going to be a nightmare, we can’t drive from there to there.” Rather than calling the label and saying we need tour support, we just decided not to do it. We left at the end of the UK tour. I remember someone coming up to us on our recent run through Europe and saying, “I came to see you with The Bosstones but you never turned up.” That was a really shitty thing to do, because even if it was a couple of people making a journey and getting excited about it… we didn’t tell anyone, we just went home. That’s a shitty thing to do. It wasn’t driven by any ill will, it was just stupidity.
Did I hear correctly that you guys have got an EP on the way?
- Will: It’s pretty much done. Should get finished this week.
- Chris: I tracked the drums in July, then the rest of the music was done between then and now, and we got the vocals down last week. We’re still using Andy, who we’ve used for everything before. That’s why it’s taken so long; he produces proper bands. He’s been working on the latest Judas Priest album and, strangely, they take priority when it comes to his time management. It sounds great but I don’t know what we’re doing with it once it’s done.
- Will: I don’t think there’s any aspirations for it to be big. I think Steve, once he’s recorded the EP, he sort of feels that it doesn’t matter if no one hears it. His mantra was that it’s got to be fun, and it’s got the be relaxed and easy.
The new material you’ve written… does it sound like classic Consumed or have you gone down a different route?
- Chris: We can’t change, we’re not capable. I think there were improvements. Steve’s vocals sounds good.
- Will: Definitely. I don’t think they’ll surprise anyone necessarily, but they’re fucking good. The fact that we haven’t had to flesh it out – there’s no one saying we have to produce an album at the end of it – means that it’s just good. Six tracks is about right and there’s no pressure to do any more.
- Chris: It’s like any band. If you do something and you’re happy with it, job done.
- Will: Steve’s the creative force. He writes the songs and he’s quite anxious about quality control. We’ve all got quite a high internal bar.
Massive thanks to Chris and Will from Consumed for chatting with us. Keep an eye out for their new EP, now fully recorded – to be announced in the near future.
While you’re here, check out our review of their recent show in Liverpool.
Article by Sarah Williams. Photos by JJ Photography UK.