As Vile Assembly release new single, Propaganda, Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody had a talk with Paul Mason about the rise of the band and all that’s wrong with the world.
The story of the rise of Vile Assembly is a quite remarkable one, especially for a band who never really intended to be a band.
We sat down with Paul Mason to hear his take on it. Ahead of the release of new single, Propaganda, this is quite a tale. We didn’t even need to ask him many questions – he just talks and with passion.
Grab a coffee and hear what he has to say. It’s worth it.
Getintothis: Tell us a little bit about the history of the band, because you had quite a long gestation period.
Paul Mason: Well, we weren’t even a band. Back in the day we used to be in a band together, maybe 20 years ago. We had a studio and then I ended up with a drinking and drug problem really. I kind of became really good at it, so at one point I just got to the point where I thought, I just can’t keep doing this. The music scene is inflaming this addiction and I wanted to just get a grip of it. So we decided to keep the studio as a going concern, keep it running and I stepped away. The three of us kind of went our separate ways, but kept in with the studio.
Getintothis: Where is the studio?
PM: Latham, near Ormskirk. And then I had a business, set it up, did pretty well. And then just decided one day – we’d gone on a jaunt, just as mates. We’ve always ranted and we were ranting this day about the political system and how shit it is and how nobody seems to be writing about it. It seemed we’d almost become in fear of writing about the political system.
Getintothis: How long ago are you talking about?
PM: Only a couple of years ago. We were looking at that and going Why? Why? Why are people so scared? It seemed that people were more interested in creating music for fame and that kind of stuff. That was all we could see. So I said, come on let’s go in the studio, knock about for a bit and see what we come up with. I wanted to try to explore different types of sound. So that’s how we ended up going back into the studio.
And then one day we were ranting about homelessness. I live in town [Liverpool] and I see a lot of homelessness and it’s horrifying. I run through the city every day, so I see it.
I’d never stopped writing, so I already had stuff that I’d written about this. In the studio, in a couple of hours we wrote a song called ‘Suicide Feast’. I’d already had this idea lyrically in a poem form.
I run past this place in town. It’s a charity café and I see people sitting outside waiting for the café to open for a meal and I wonder if this is where we’re at as a country. They’re desperate.
And that’s why I wrote this stuff about ‘Suicide feast in a canteen dream, it’s a hidden holocaust’. We don’t really talk about it in those terms, such as it being a holocaust. But it is as people are dying. So we wrote the song in a couple of hours and we thought ‘that’s alright, that’.
And then about a week later I was over in Abu Dhabi in a hotel that had a little beach in it. The Man City squad were there. I’m an Evertonian and my little lad’s an Evertonian. Vincent Kompany was on the beach and he says to my lad ‘Do you want a photograph?’ And my lad says: ‘No, I’m an Evertonian’.
So the fella in the sunbed next to us started laughing and he said ‘I’m a scouser and I’m an Evertonian’ So we got talking, as you do. We ended up talking about music and he seemed interested, so I said I’ve just been in the studio and we’ve recorded a song [Suicide Feast].
He asked me to send him the song, which I did. He emailed me back later than evening to say he thought it was a really good track, really punchy, great lyrics. He said ‘I’m going to send this to Tom Robinson, here’s his email address and I think you should send it too. Just say Geoff gave me the email address to send it to’. I asked how he knew Tom Robinson.
He said ‘I’m Geoff Smith, I’m the head of BBC music’. It’s a really bizarre, how did you meet kind of story.
— RevolutionXradio (@revolutionxrad1) September 14, 2019
And I never heard anything back. We were still going into the studio, knocking about.
And then a couple of months later my partner’s father was in the chippy and he rang me to say: ‘Your song’s on the radio’.
From that moment, it just became ridiculous. This song was travelling to different places around the world. It just picked up naturally. And we didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know how to deal with it. People would be emailing me saying ‘I’ve just heard this song on a radio station, is there any chance you could send a copy out to our radio station?’
In the meantime of that happening, we’d also recorded a couple of other songs, including ‘Last Century Man’. But we didn’t have a name for this band. It was just the three of us. For Suicide Feast, we used Vile Assembly. For Last Century Man we put ‘Strangle Wank Club’. And then we started seeing messages from Canada saying Strangle Wank Club was being played on the radio.
We still didn’t really know what was happening or how to deal with anything. Then we were contacted by an agent from France, saying this song’s going round French radio, and would we come over and play a show. And I went: ‘YEAH!’.
But we then had to get a band together. It was our first gig that November. He thought we were already doing gigs, he didn’t know we didn’t even have a band. But we scraped one together and went over and it was brilliant.
Off the back of just that one show we started getting stuff coming in, with people saying could we come and play in different parts of Europe.
Then we got a little tour in the west coast of America, which was incredible. So things were starting to pick up. But we still didn’t know what we were doing, didn’t have a clue.
Getintothis: Did you have a manager?
PM: No. Nothing. Me. And I didn’t know what I was doing. We were getting so much radio play and so much promotion, but because things had changed from back in the day, we didn’t know anything about social media and the like.
Getintothis: So, it’s been something of a learning curve?
PM: Yeah. We met some great people and got some great messages. But in the space of two years, it just sounds ridiculous. And then there’s a band I’ve been following for about 20 years called The BellRays. I became friends with Lisa [Kekaula] and Bob [Vennum]. They played over here in Manchester last year in the Soup Kitchen.
Getintothis: Ha! We were at that gig.
PM: So was I. They said come over and they couldn’t really believe we’d got this band together. I said we’ve a little tour in the west coast of America – Division of Labour had been getting a lot of radio play. They said they had a gig in LA on 29 May and said ‘Why don’t you support us on that gig?’
We got to the venue at 5 o’clock and did the soundcheck. Bob said ‘The doors are open at 6, you guys are on at 6.05’.
Now I’m in awe of these people, but the rest of the lads have looked at me. I said, look, ‘I don’t mind playing to nobody – we’re supporting The BellRays’. But when we looked outside before the gig, there were people queuing around the block. It was unbelievable. By the time we got on, the place was full. It was just one of those moments, when I had to think ‘How have we got here? In America, supporting The BellRays, how has that happened?’
When we came back [to the UK]we were going: ‘What the fucking hell was that all about?’ If somebody had said: ‘OK, lads, that’s it now, the ride’s over’ We’d have gone: ‘Great’. It couldn’t have been any more perfect. But then as soon as we’d got back, The Damned got in touch wanting us to come on a French tour. And then in the UK as well.
That was an eye opener. It was THE DAMNED. Just to know they’d listened to our songs and thought they were alright. That would have been enough for me.
Maybe this is alright. It’s not about fame. It was purely about: let’s go in the studio and write some political songs, because nobody was writing political songs. That’s all it was. Putting the stuff out there was just a by-product, it just happened.
By the time we’d settled down and nothing much was happening, I had a conversation with Keith [Mullin] from The Farm and I said I just don’t know what I’m doing. He offered to get the [project]into a little bit more of a shape.
Then there were more gigs coming in and it seemed to pick up momentum. That’s what seems to be happening. We’ve had a load of radio play of [new single]Propaganda all over America.
Getintothis: What about in the UK? Do you get much here?
PM: No. I know Radio 6 are interested in playing Propaganda, but it seems to be a bit of a game. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily about the music, it’s about who is interested in you, how much of a following have you got. That seems fucking ludicrous, because one of those things has to give before the other things follow.
I think the problem we’ve got is that they’re a little bit scared of the stuff we’re doing. It’s sensitive. It’s the politics. Radio over here didn’t want to play Suicide Feast because it had the word ‘suicide’ in it. They didn’t want to play Last Century Man because it was ridiculing these rich, historical organisations like the monarchy and the church.
The radio would be going: ‘It’s brilliant, what you’re doing is right, it’s incredible, we’re just a little bit scared of playing it in case people get offended’.
Getintothis: You might have thought that would be the American reaction
PM: The Americans, for some reason, just took to it, just loved it. And I think what did us some favours was that we had this particular English sound – the seventies, the eighties, we kept hold of all that stuff we grew up with and then just added on all this new sound that we’d been listening to. So, I think the Americans just went for it.
But there were was all the other countries. In the end we had Division of Labour got to number 6 in the UK in the alternative charts … it got to number one in Mexico. How does that happen?
The message in the music is clearly doing something. And the people want to hear it, but the radio stations are scared of that proportion of the audience that they don’t want to offend.
That’s what’s worrying for me. When somebody talks about Idles about being the most controversial band out there – I don’t know what message they’re delivering. I like them. But I don’t know what it is. It all seems a little bit safe, lyrically.
The things that we’re doing now, the way we’re being misled by the political arena. The more that we’re believing these political agenda stories, the more we’re damaging our future families and their lives.
Getintothis: Do you think your lyrics are too explicit?
PM: I’m trying to get to the point in three minutes. I don’t wanna go around the houses. But I also know that I can’t go effing and jeffing. So the idea is about getting that idea in as quickly as possible. I’m not going to write about love. I’m writing about what I can see that’s around us.
Division of Labour is about how these rich corporate organisations are exploiting us, pushing us to the brink. And once the individual breaks, the corporate organisation just discards it like scraps of food. Once you’re no good to that business, you’re discarded and you’re thrown away and they bring somebody else in, there’s always somebody waiting in line to take that place. I’m saying there’s go to come a point where we’ve got to revolt.
Getintothis: What kind of revolution do you see happening?
PM: Well, unfortunately, I don’t. But I want one. One where we take over the running of this country. I mean, it can’t be any worse.
You could give that job to anybody. At the moment, the way the country’s run is just making sure that the money just keeps floating upwards, so that’s the first thing that’s got to stop. This is our money, the money we’re paying into a pot. And that’s our right to say where that money goes. But for some reason we don’t really mind about who takes whatever out of it and spend it on whatever. Why aren’t we all gathering together and standing on the streets? Nobody’s really got any views and that worries me. Nobody’s really thinking.
As soon as I think about stuff in a different way, it enables me to write [songs]. Propaganda is such an easy title. As soon as I heard it in my head, I was thinking: are we that scared? That somebody comes and takes away our little piece of nothing? So we have to toe the line.
I’m not talking about my family, now, that’s alive. I’m talking about the ones who haven’t been born. What legacy am I leaving for them? If we don’t do something, they’re going to absolutely hate us. We’re creating a world that’s worse for them.
Getintothis: Do you think some of the kids are becoming more aware of that now?
PM: It can seem a bit trendy to be aware. There’s two kinds of aware.
There’s somebody that wants to go out and make a change and there’s somebody that wants to sit in the pub discussing about how to make change. I’m not saying I’m doing anything great here, because I’m not. I’m just writing songs.
But if we take to the streets, then I’m on the streets.