Big Peter talks to Tragic City Thieves
PM: Where do you guys hail from?
C.J: We’re all from Port Glasgow, a small town just west of here. I live in Glasgow now, but we all grew up together, we’ve been pals for years – the usual kind of shit – and eventually we got a band together. We all played different instruments and jammed together a lot. I suppose we kinda were a band before we even started it properly.
PM: There obvious parallel there is with The Ramones, who wound up forming from the same sort of background…
C.J: Well, we’ve all been in different bands before this, but there is something to be said about being in a band with your best pals. Obviously, it’s a plus because you don’t really hold back – you just have a quick direct communication. You end up thinking each other are a bunch of dicks, but you end up quite a solid unit..... a moon unit you could say, haha.
PM: Is there a story behind the name of the band?
C.J: I usually make up shit if someone asks me something like that, but the honest story is that I was watching Alexander (with Colin Farrell and Anthony Hopkins) and Anthony Hopkins is talking about Alexander invading and destroying all these cities and leaving the spoils for the tragic city thieves, and I went ‘that’s a pretty cool band name!’ It’s also a kind of play on the town we’re from. What the band is essentially about, is a glamorised, fantasy version of the Port. That’s where we draw a lot the inspiration. Most of the songs are based on true stories, with a bit of scandal added. Like putting some colour back into a grey depressing landscape.
PM: What’s your approach to music? How would you describe your sound? Give us an idea of your take on this crazy thing called music.
C.J: The high energy side of punk is brilliant, its fast and furious, and was so even before the films! A good punk song is like being on a shitty old rollercoaster, you getting battered about and you love it, your back teeth are rattling. But I like big wanky guitar solos too and big rock riffs. I guess we try to mash them together, as lots of bands do. We would never claim to be original but who cares, and we throw in the odd experimental song to keep our net wide and not play ourselves into a corner. In terms of our approach, We have got a bit of a punk ethos. We do everything ourselves and do what we like and love, but if somebody offered us a million quid to kill a goat or something with our bare hands, we would.
PM: I think any band that said otherwise would be lying.
C.J: Oh aye. I remember this TV programme with Gene Simmons, it was like a rock school and he was talking to a young musician, and the young musician said “I’m not interested in money,” and Simmons said “well, if that’s the case, would you sign this saying you’ll sign all your money over to me, because I’ll take your money?” - the wee guy was stumped. Brilliant!
PM: You can call him an asshole (as he did himself on the title of his 2004 album) but he’s no idiot.
C.J: Exactly. He’s comfortable in his own skin and he does whatever he likes. He doesn’t give a fuck what folk think. I mean, the bands I’m into personally…I want them to have money. I want them to earn a living doing what they’re doing. If they can’t, they’d end up chucking it in and having to get day jobs and dying on their arse, depriving myself and others of the good music and gigs we want them to do.
PM: Who would you say you have been influenced by?
C.J: Emm…music wise ‘70s punk, ‘80s grunge and a lot of Scandinavian rock ‘n’ roll bands from the past 20 years.
PM: I finally got a chance to listen to the album (‘Be My Receiver’) last night. The two bands that came to my mind immediately were Turbonegro-
C.J: Turbonegro, definitely, but I would say that a lot of other Scandinavian bands of the last-
C.J: They’re a great band too, I love Gluecifer, man. Also, some of the ‘70s bands like the New York Dolls and The Stooges, the MC5, In terms of what we write about, we don’t write about New York or Detroit though obviously; I write about stuff that I’ve heard about or feel connected too. I write about TV shows too. I wrote a song last week inspired by Oz. Its set in a jail, do you know it? Well there’s two characters in it: Chris Keller and Tobias Beecher, and Beecher – a straight guy - ends up in jail and winds up falling into a twisted love relationship with Keller, set in motion through tragedy and circumstance. Its loosely about their weird relationship and how people can still fall for each other in some very fucked up situations.
PM: It is a bit of a challenge to the expected themes in songwriting.
C.J: Well I don’t wanna just be straight up and do literal social commentary, talking about local businesses closing down, strikes, global warming and stuff. That is all cool and great but personally I’d much rather write about murders that Ive heard about or dark secrets people tell you and maybe add some bits; it’s rooted in the truth but you add your own spin on it.
PM: Creative licensing.
C.J: It’s just a case of taking the bull by the horns and then stabbing its brains out, hehe. Joe Strummer was amazing at being really direct with his lyrics, he told you exactly what was going on word for word. He did that far better than I ever could, so I would rather create something inspired by real events and take it wherever I wanted …it just feels more natural that way. Also I can’t write about heartbreak without turning it into a total joke. Rubber Dolly is about a guy who has a rubber doll and thinks it’s a real person and eventually gets sick of it when something new comes along, but its just a play on drifting apart from someone. In the end, I'll do whatever I feel is honest for me, I don’t worry to much about how its perceived. Christopher Hitchens once said he tried to write as if he was addressing his most intelligent and humorous friend. That’s a good way to look at it.
PM: In the past, you have supported the likes of The Jim Jones Revue, Steve Conte of the New York Dolls and even Har Mar Superstar.
C.J: That’s right, and even Electric Six recently too. Har Mar Superstar was everything that he is on TV but behind the scenes he’s a really cool guy too. He said he used to be in an indie band then got into disco because chicks loved it. He is a sleazy bastard. I ended up going for a drink with him after the gig in Sleazys, and within 20 minutes he had his eye on a chick and he was firing into her in the toilets; he ended up leaving with a couple of girls. That’s what happens when you’re in films and shit.
PM: What would be your ideal gig?
C.J: I dunno. That’s a difficult question. Right now, even though we probably wouldn’t be a suitable match live, id say Nick Cave is somebody that I would love to meet and sit down and talk with backstage. At the age he’s at now, he seems to be hitting his creative peak and everything he does is gold. He’s still got a pure hunger to do it. If I could meet anyone though it would be Joe Strummer, he changed my entire life and made me want to not have a meaningless boring life and make an effort in everything I do. You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin!
PM: What about Iggy & The Stooges? They’re still going.
C.J: Yeah. The band we played with at Bloc on Tuesday, CUT, have actually supported The Stooges.
PM: They were good. Yon frontman walked on looking like Frank Black.
C.J: You just didn’t expect that kind of show from them. They fucking rocked it man. It was as if they were playing to a stadium or something.
For confused readers, CUT are an Italian hard rock act. CJ and I spent some minutes discussing the hidden gems to be found within the Italian rock and hardcore scenes. It’s not all pasta and Pavarotti over there, you know…
PM: I don’t care what anyone says: AC/DC are Scottish.
C.J: I bet he cant surf, and Angus Young – it’s in the name! There is no ‘Angus’ in Australia! G’day Angus!
PM: Exactly. I don’t think I’m in breach of any form of journalistic integrity when I say: get it up ye, Australia.
PM: You recently released ‘Be My Receiver, ’a new album, to some fine reviews. Tell us a little bit about it.
C.J: We got four stars from Big Cheese magazine last week. Very good.
At this point, I’m going to name and shame Jen, from murder balladeers The Dirt, who recognised CJ. Unfortunately, my memory wasn’t so good. Fortunately, The Dirt are well worth checking out!
PM: Tell us a little bit about the new album.
C.J: We recorded it ourselves. We have our own little recording studio known as the Tragic City Slaughterhouse – it’s in the Tragic City! It used to be a slaughterhouse, so we’ve got the sounds of meat, bones and death around us. Blood gives a harsher more metallic treble. We tried to give this album a ‘live’ sound. Our first album was a wee bit more ‘rocky.’ Obviously, for out next album, we’re just going to write a bunch of hits and get to #1!
Seriously, though, our new album is a bit darker than the last one. It’s about stealing and deceit…I have this image in my head of a town that’s always dark and foggy, where there’s always murder and robbery. Like old dimly lit street photos, there’s a creepy sinister undertone.
PM: The album does paint a picture.
C.J: Yeah well I wouldn’t ever call it a concept album. We just use the songs that we like and put them in a decent order.
PM: What sets you guys apart from the others?
C.J: That’s probably best for others to judge, but in Glasgow its not hard for a band to be a bit different. Just don’t wear checked shirts and woolly hats and boom! your no longer in the scene.
A few more drinks came and the conversation traversed many junctures and shot through several red lights. No punches were pulled as dodgy promoters and anodyne and arrogant Glasgow acts were cut down. Before long, it wasn’t so much an interview as a light-hearted glance at the pros and cons of Glasgow music. To print every word as it was said would probably be too much for too many people, so we’ll leave you with the bare necessities.
Author: Peter McGee
June 10, 2013
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