SBV: ‘Born To Ruin’ is inspired lyrically by social and political situations, activism and the counter-culture. Do you think activists of all shape and forms will like and be able to in turn be inspired by the band and the album?
Darren Johns: I would hope so but it doesn’t really matter if they’re not because there’s enough inspiration elsewhere. It’s not as if the world of resistance will collapse without Crazy Arm. I wouldn’t put our album on the same level as more direct political records by, say, Crass, Propagandhi, Chumbawamba or Billy Bragg, as fuel for political activism, but we are a relatively new band so we have time to establish ourselves as something more effective. I hope that happens.
SBV: Do you think any non-activists may be inspired into action? Or have any been since the band’s existed?
DJ: I believe that some people are inspired in general by what we have to offer, but I wouldn’t know if they’ve been inspired to act upon anything specific. I think we’re too small a band to be that effective yet. And we tend not to cram too much moral grandstanding into the lyrics which leaves them open to interpretation. As time goes on, I’d hope that we may politicise certain people that are open to radical ideas but may not have been exposed to them elsewhere.
SBV: Every song on the album has an explanation on the album sleeve underneath the lyrics – a short narrative of what the song’s about or what inspired it. Whose idea was it to do that and why?
DJ: That was my idea. I think it makes the album seem more human and lends the songs true-life context. The lyrics don’t always paint the full picture and sometimes it’s good to know a bit of the backstory. We’re not the first band to do this and I’m sure we won’t be the last.
SBV: Is it ever hard to put into lyrics exactly what you want to say – or get the right musical accompaniment to make the song exactly as you want it? Which song off the album did you find the hardest to become perfect?
DJ: Every lyric is a small struggle. It never comes without some effort and a certain amount of head scratching. ‘Blind Summit’ was one of the easiest songs to write as it just happened to fall together in a short time. ‘Christ In Concrete’ was an extended labour of love due to the amount of sections in the song. The song itself wasn’t completely written until the final stages of recording.
SBV: Underneath ‘Reassure Me’ you write ‘What if our do-gooder activism and community inclinations amount to nothing? Don’t worry. The victory, as they say, is not the outcome of resistance but the resistance itself’. It’s a positive message to urge everyone who is trying to make a difference to carry on and keep up the fight. You say you’ve needed reassurance too. Do any particular times stand out in relation to the band or your music when you needed reassurance or felt doubt – but then got through it?
DJ: I’m in a constant state of self-doubt! Honestly, I harshly judge myself and my achievements, musically or otherwise, on a daily basis, and I always struggle to attach purpose to my life. But it beats complacency. Complacency is the enemy of creativity. Within the band, we all have our collective and personal troubles, and we’re always in a state of flux. I think this is reflected in the variety of music styles that we flit between. I’m so insecure and neurotic that I’m not afraid to ask for reassurance – the trouble is, everyone knows I’m that insecure so they usually humour me.
SBV: How do you feel when you’ve played a Crazy Arm show? What sort of emotions or feelings do you experience post-gig?
DJ: Exhaustion, first and foremost. The urge to get out of hot, wet clothes is pretty intense. The rest depends on how well the gig went. Sometimes, a feeling of accomplishment, sometimes disappointment, sometimes frustration, sometimes elation. I’m sure all bands feel the same.
SBV: On your album sleeve you say ‘Crazy Arm advocate a lifestyle in opposition to capitalism, imperialist wars, religion, xenophobia, gender inequality and animal abuse’. Can you explain a little about why you’re against each of those things?
DJ: To me, all of those things are inextricably linked. I don’t see them as separate, exclusive issues. They all have a common denominator which is the rejection of power, whether state or personal power, and the inevitable abuse of that power. War is the result of capitalist expansion; religion is the result of the need to control others behaviour; racism, nationalism and sexism are the age-old result of governmental divide-and-rule policies; while levels of animal abuse/exploitation indicate how easily a society finds it to devalue and disregard anything that doesn’t mirror its own image.
SBV: You’re all vegan or vegetarian. Did this play a part in the formation of the band - ie. would you ever have a non-vegan member or is being vegetarian/vegan a must?
DJ: It wasn’t intentional. It just so happened that Jon, Simon and I were vegetarian when we formed the band. When Dan joined a year later he wasn’t vegetarian at first. We’re very persuasive! It’s not a pre-requisite for the band but it certainly helps to have us unified behind certain ideas. I’d be far more concerned if one of us was, say, homophobic or racist. They obviously wouldn’t remain in the band.
SBV: Which members are vegan and which are vegetarian and how long have you been vegan/vegetarian?
DJ: I was vegan for seven years, then vegetarian for 15 years, and returned to veganism a year ago along with our bassist, Jon. We live in the same house so it was an easy transformation. I’m not religious about it though – if there’s non-vegan food going to waste or going free then I’ll eat it, and if I’m on tour and the service station has very little choice then I’ll occasionally relent and go vegetarian. But I can’t believe how much vegans are catered for now compared to what it was like 20 years ago. All of the superstores have bought into the whole niche market which kind of negates the nature of veganism as something that promotes self-sufficiency and local co-operative trading. Simon and Dan are both vegetarian.
SBV: Have you ever been in a band where your ideals weren’t shared by a fellow band member and you clashed over your opinions?
I don’t recall ever clashing over anything but I’ve certainly been in bands without a common agreement on all issues. Thankfully, the other band members have always been mature enough to respect my beliefs as I did theirs. Most musicians I know are, at least, liberal so there’s usually an air of mutual respect within most bands.
SBV: On the album sleeve you list and link 50 organisations/campaigns that you identify with and support. If say, a reader is lazy or busy and only has time to check out five, which websites would you tell them to check out first and why?
Indymedia: invaluable alternative/radical news site www.indymedia.org
Globalise Resistance: anti-capitalist activism www.resist.org.uk
Stop The War Coalition: opposing the so-called ‘war on terror’ www.stopwar.org.uk
No Borders: freedom of movement for all www.noborders.org.uk
Animal Liberation Front: self-explanatory www.animalliberationfront.com
SBV: You’re obviously against poverty. You support Oxfam, Shelter and Child Poverty Action Group. What do you think needs to be done to stop the poverty in the world? What would you like to see the government doing in the UK for example?
In the short term, an end to third world debt; the abolition of free trade and venture capitalism, replaced with a stringently monitored network of fair trade regulations; a huge shift towards home-grown food and collective organisation; and the sacking of all bailiffs. In the long term, a rejection of capitalism and the creation of a society based on mutual aid might be a good start. It’s a complex situation but economics don’t need to be so exclusive. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful is still held up as an exemplary model of creating a system of local economies that put people before profit: which is the essence of fighting poverty.
SBV: What are your thoughts on the lady currently in the papers who’s having her 14th child and has had the previous children taken away costing tax-payers lots of money?
It always baffles and irritates me when a tiny fraction of the population who have lots of children are vilified for it. They’re too small a minority to have any social ramifications, and the psychological reasons why some women have so many children is something I and many others couldn’t begin to comprehend. There’s always an undercurrent of misogyny attached to the media’s treatment of such women. Obviously, it’s faintly ridiculous to have so many children but I don’t spend any time worrying about it.
SBV: Which revolutionary individuals stand out most for you in history for bringing positive changes to the world (and why)?
Most of the individuals that I look up to are those who are revolutionary with words as much as deeds. Investigative journalists like John Pilger, Howard Zinn and Robert Fisk; ground-breaking authors and satirists like Kurt Vonnegut, Chris Morris and Jeffrey Eugenides; philosophers like Nietzsche, Sartre and Noam Chomsky... You don’t have to put yourself on the frontline to affect real change, although the actions of people from Emma Goldman and Errico Malatesta to Mumia Abu-Jamal and lifelong hunt saboteur and good friend, Harry Cross, are memorable and priceless. Essentially, any lasting positive change can only be brought about by masses of committed, organised and, ultimately, nameless individuals all over the world.
SBV: Which musicians do you think have done the most to bring a positive change to the world (and why)?
Crass and all the other anarcho-punk bands of the early ‘80s, Ian Mackaye and Fugazi, Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys, Joni Mitchell, Gil Scott Heron, Public Enemy, Bob Marley, Joe Strummer, Dick Lucas and the Subhumans, Tom Robinson Band, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, Henry Rollins, The Levellers... The list is endless. They’ve all worked fucking hard to inject positivity into their respective societies against impossible odds or have, at the very least, provided the counter-culture with strong foundations and challenged the dominant ideologies around them. More importantly, and realistically, these are the kind of musicians that have made me a better and more aware person, for which I’m eternally grateful.
SBV: ‘I searched for answers inside and out’ you sing in ’Blind Summit’. What are you still searching for?
Well, apart from lost plectrums, I guess a deeper understanding of the world around me and a sense of inner peace. It seems to get more complicated as I get older. I’m sure it’s supposed to be the reverse!
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