Interview by Sarah Williams.
Disgraceland are a relatively new heavy punk ‘n’ roll band from Plymouth, ideal for fans of The Stooges, Dead Kennedys, Reverend Horton Heat or The Jim Jones Revue. Since their inception in 2018, they’ve released two EPs had have picked up some exciting live dates in the South of England.
Featuring Shout Louder’s very own Ollie Stygall on guitar, we had an in depth chat with him about the band’s inception, direction and slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach.
You’re a new band, but by no means new to the world of punk rock. What projects have you been involved with in the past?
We’ve all been around the block several times over and have clocked up a lot of miles in different bands.
Foz (drums) and I spent 14 years in a band called Grifter who were classed by people as stoner rock, although I hate that term and just thought of us as a rock and roll band. We did OK, put out a couple of albums on an American label, released stuff on a few other labels, did some touring, went to Europe, etc. Foz has also spent time many years ago in a death metal band, a psychobilly band called The Lost Souls and various punk bands: Mr. Pound, Swak Tang, The Obnoxious UK to name a few.
Chris (bass) has a similarly varied past. Until recently he played upright bass in a folk band and has done a huge number of local bands including Fatty Chan who were stoner metal, Drivechain who were a decent metal band and Toxic Shock Syndrome back in the 90’s, who I’ve never heard but I believe were a metal, punk, industrial kind of mix of stuff.
As for me… I’ve dabbled in various things. In the 90’s I was in a thrash band called Revenant Host, a stoner/metal band called Nero Circus and a weird punk/post-hardcore thing called Conrad.
From that impressive background, how did Disgraceland come together?
I guess the genesis of the idea goes back several years to when Chris and I chatted and said we’d like to jam some day. At one point we had a plan to do a band doing punk covers of country songs called Ten Gallon Tw*t. I always had a feeling that we’d do something as I love his playing and stage presence… he plays bass like he wants to stab you with it!
Foz and I had done Grifter for 14 years and that kind of ground to a halt. I think we ran out of steam a couple of years before, but limped on until 2017. Foz is my musical brother. I love his drumming and him as a person so I still wanted to play with him. I had harboured a dream to play a mash up of punk rock, rockabilly, garage rock and old school rock and roll for many years… and in later years had tried to steer Grifter in that direction. With no more Grifter there was nothing to stop me doing that.
[We formed in March 2018.] We went in for that first practice with a view to try a bunch of covers but came out with the starting point of 2 songs. We played the covers badly and never did them again! We spent 9 months writing songs then did a gig. It went well so we decided we should do a lot more!
How does Disgraceland differ to your previous endeavours?
Well, we all have varied musical tastes, as you can see from our previous bands, but for each of us punk has been an abiding passion for over 30 years.
For me this is the first time I’ve properly been able to indulge that. In Grifter we did covers of The Damned and Dead Kennedys and I loved that contrast with our heavy rock kind of vibe. I think we’ve all loved what we’ve done in the past – I’m extremely proud of the Grifter stuff – but now I kind of feel like I’m wearing the right jacket for the occasion… from listening to The Stooges and Dead Kennedys as a 16 year old I feel I’ve come round to that, better late than never.
What’s most exciting about releasing your new EP to the world?
When you play stuff in a rehearsal room and you nail it, when everything falls into place and the vibe in the room is almost tangible, you kind of want to share that with people. You can never fully achieve that on a recording, but you can come close, so doing an EP is the logical first step to getting people to hear something you’ve worked really hard on and are really proud of.
Having spent years with Grifter dealing with labels it’s really nice to have full control again. Working with labels is amazing when it works, but you do feel kind of beholden to other people to repay their faith in you. Doing it ourselves for this EP feels like an achievement, and we’re guiding the ship. That said, if any labels want to put our nonsense out we’d be happy to talk!
As this is your first recorded release with Disgraceland, it’s your first opportunity to make a mark on people. What messages are you trying to convey?
The main aim was to give people a chance to hear what we do and spread the name. When we went into the studio we had nine songs finished up to recording standard, and we recorded everything live as a warm up.
We wanted to give people a broad idea of what we’re about with the songs we decided to put on the EP. We could have just done all the fast songs – which comprise most of our stuff – but we wanted to approach the EP as a release that has a flow to it and has different moods to show we’re not a one trick pony and have a sense of dynamics. Hence why we went out on a limb and included Just Some F*cking Words which, to my mind is almost like Sonic Youth playing a slow blues.
Lyrically I have two aims: to make people laugh and to make people think a bit, but even the funny stuff has a point to it. The five tracks on the EP cover a range of themes. You Deserve It has awesome lyrics written by Chris that challenge superficiality, the whole selfie generation where people are obsessed with looks and having the right “things”. We’re constantly being forced to judge ourselves by others as a measure of our worth and that is bullsh*t.
I Gots It All is about people who never have to work for anything. Everything just falls into their laps. Some people may call it luck but I think there’s a lack of appreciation if you haven’t always had to work for what you want. Best Little Doggie In Town is kind of an update on The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. It’s about how some people will entirely give themselves to another person and almost allow themselves to be demeaned to be with that person. If they’re happy then all is good but it’s all about balance in relationships.
Just Some F*cking Words kind of challenges the idea that song lyrics are the answer. Obviously sometimes they can strike a chord with people but sometimes lyrics are just words to fill space. The idea came from the cover of an album called Go2 by XTC that just has text explaining the purpose of an album cover. I wanted to write a set of lyrics that did the same thing.
Finally, 100% C*nt is about politics. Specifically about how we elect people, supposedly to serve us and look after us, but once they get into power they rapidly turn to satisfying their own agenda. It’s about the frustration of being denied a voice and having to accept what government tells us we want, or more accurately, what the government wants. It was largely inspired by the whole Brexit disaster but ultimately, whoever we have in place will end up acting like a c*nt… ‘same old c*nts just a different name’.
You’ve gotten some great gigs recently. Have there been any highlights or lowlights?
We’re still quite new to the gigging game with Disgraceland but we’ve done OK so far. It was great to get offered a slot at Get Rad Festival in Plymouth after only our first gig. That was an amazing two-day affair organised by Jim Pope from Dead Frames, an excellent chap and an excellent band. That was a real showcase of, not only local talent but some national bands like Burnt Tapes.
We broke our Exeter cherry supporting American rockers Bullets and Octane and we also played a very unlikely slot at Bloodstock where we took punk rock to the metal masses, not sure they all got it but we tried! Playing a tiny pub in Falmouth with Migraines and a couple of local bands, Clay Allison and Half Kut was a huge highlight, not just for this band but for any band I’ve been in. It was absolutely rammed and the crowd went nuts!
Ollie, you’ve got a history in 80’s hardcore punk, but this is quite a different direction. Which acts are your taking musical influence from for this project?
Yeah, I got very heavily into and influenced by the music and ethics of the hardcore scene in the 80’s, particularly the UKHC scene. I got into that via listening to thrash metal and found bands that were faster and noisier that really had something important to say.
A lot of those ethics have stuck with me and carried me through the last 30 years, bands like Heresy, Extreme Noise Terror, Concrete Sox, Ripcord, Deviated Instinct, etc. However, I was brought up by a dad who is a big Rolling Stones, blues and rock and roll fan so that kind of thing has been a massive influence on me so having that rock and roll edge in there is always going to happen.
It also helps that all three of us are massive Dead Kennedys fans, and fans of rockabilly so stuff like Reverend Horton Heat are another big one. A few years ago Foz got me into The Jim Jones Revue and I’ve paid that forward to Chris. They’re another big influence: big, noisy as f*ck rock and roll.
How did you go about recording the new EP? What do you think are the advantages to the DIY / self-release approach?
[Tony, who runs Athena Rooms (our practice room in Bridgwater) suggested their studio, with Ash Scott, who engineers there.] It was brilliant. Ash is a great guy and great engineer. If you give him an idea of how you want something to sound, he really listens and can translate that into something that comes out of the speakers. It was all very quick and painless.
We actually recorded the whole set first and then recorded the EP tracks. We’ve just released three of the live tracks as an EP called Leftovers. They’re pretty raw and I’d had a sore throat for a couple of weeks so I sound a bit Lemmyish in places, but it’s good fun to do stuff like this.
Doing it ourselves means we do things to our own schedule. With labels sometimes there is a big lag between recording something and it eventually being released, by which time you’re sick of the recording and have moved on. Doing it ourselves means we can move at the pace we want. It also means that we’re not racking up debts that never seem to go down, we just do what we can afford and we don’t feel obligated to anyone but ourselves. On the down side we can’t afford to do much in the way of physical product and we don’t have the contacts to try and promote our stuff the way a label would… but we’re working on that.
If you could tell people one secret about Disgraceland, what would it be?
It took us months to decide on a band name. For brief periods we were called Beef Machine, Pig Neck and Limited Teeth.
What are you long and short term ambitions for the band?
Well, we’ve all got jobs, bills to pay, kids to feed, etc, so our days of getting in a van and going off for weeks at a time, sleeping on floors and living off chips are long behind us. We know we’re never going to be big so our ambitions are modest. At the moment we’re happy getting to jam once a week and make an almighty racket. We’re getting a buzz out of writing new tunes. We try and gig maybe twice a month so we can balance home, work and doing this.
We want to keep creating music we love and building the profile of the band. Short term we’re promoting the two EPs and trying to sort more gigs. Then from there we’re planning to get in the studio and record another EP, we just need one more song then we’re good to go so we’ll be recording in the New Year. There will be some surprising things on there as well.
We also want to start getting more gigs a little further afield. We’ve done Plymouth, Torquay, Exeter, Bournemouth, Bristol, Falmouth and the Midlands so far and we did Bloodstock. It would be nice to get to London and a few other places. It would be awesome to get ourselves onto some of the festivals like Manchester Punk Fest and Rebellion and maybe see if we can find a cool label to put out some physical product for us. If I learned one thing from all the years in Grifter it’s that slow and steady wins the race so that’s the plan!