Having impressed him earlier in the year at Bombfest, New York Johnny hooked up with Livi punks Critikill for a wee chat in advance of their forthcoming visit to The Moorings. Read on to see what they had to say.
OK – Who’s answering the questions and what do you do in the band?
Craig – Guitar player, one of the founder members,
For the uninformed, can you give a brief introduction to Critikill, what you’re about, who does what etc?
We are a 5 piece punk band, mostly from Livingston although 2 newer (& much younger) members are from Edinburgh & Scotty is from Penicuick. We still have 3 out of 4 original members, who are myself, Scotty & Crany. Scotty was originally our drummer but moved to guitar when he became ill in the late 90’s. This also coincided with our original rhythm guitar player leaving. I was the original lead vocalist but we added Ralf Todd as 5th member in the early 2000’s when he left Chinese Burn, another Livi band. This helped us with lyric writing & getting more complex guitar work done. We also got Stu Davis (formerly of countless Livi punk bands including The Skroteez & currently Overspill) in on drums. Since then the only thing that has changed has the drummers & singers. Now we have Jamie Herkes on Vocals & Jason Watt on drums.
You come from Livingston which has a long history of producing fine punk bands, from the likes of The Skroteez back in the late 70’s right up to the present. Is the scene down there still fairly healthy. Are you guys carrying on that tradition?
We like to think we have carried on the tradition. We have had members of some classic Livi bands over the years such as Stu (mentioned earlier) & Ralf who was in Barbed Wire, Molotov Cocktail & Chinese Burn.
Also every Christmas all the old “Livi boys” get together for a gig, where we play old Livi punk band covers & other classic punk covers. Basically everyone from all of the Livi bands past & present take turns each on stage & we have a blast. At the last gig we had half of The Skroteez up doing songs from the Overspill E.P. & these guys are getting close to 50!
Although we are one of the youngest Livi Punk bands we are now the longest running one.
Who else do you rate locally?
From Livi – Overspill and, more recently, Jock Sparrer who are a tribute to……well, I’ll let you guess.
From Edinburgh – Gin Goblins, Down To Kill, amongst a few others as the Edinburgh scene is quite healthy just now.
You’ve been on the go for some time now. How do you manage to keep the inspiration up and, maybe more importantly, keep the nagging wives and bosses at bay?
We have now been going 16 years this month and, over the years, we have had few breaks & set backs but every time we get going again we feel fresh. We never stop writing songs which keeps us from getting bored although we still do songs which are over 10 years old in our set. We all like our own music & enjoy playing it, plus getting out and practicing & gigging blows away the frustrations of work and any other shit that life throws at you. You can’t beat the feeling of belting out the songs in front of an audience that appreciates our stuff (even if there is only one person that likes it). As for wives & nagging bosses, I am the only one who is married & my wife is a fan of the band. And the nagging bosses – fuck them!
Your current album Brick Wall is marked by a change of vocalist. Some higher profile punk bands have stuggled with the change of frontman (Stranglers, Dead Kennedys, Sham 69). How was it for you guys? Was it difficult to carry on when the original singer left? Did you ever feel like chucking in the towel?Well technically our original singer is still in the band (me) but now I only do backing vox. Over the years we have had 4 different voices up front so it has been one of the variable factors throughout the history of Critikill. As a result the vocals haven’t really been the main identity of the band. Every singer had their own style but were not drastically different, although every new singer brought something fresh to the table. So this is probably one of the reasons we are still going and which kept us from chucking in the towel.
There seems to be a very different sound between the older stuff and Brick Wall, a toughening up I suppose. (For the record, I prefer it to the earlier stuff) Was that a conscious change or just having new blood in the camp?
We had been writing some of the songs on “Brick Wall” for nearly 4 years, so some of them were written with the older line up from “Welcome to The Future” & “Fuel The War”. I think the sound on “Brick Wall” is just the way we have developed over the years, although Jam’s vocals are a bit more intense than some of our previous stuff & that has influenced our playing as well. He brought a bit of youth to the band as the original members have all recently turned 40, Jam is only 24 & our new drummer, Jason (who hasn’t recorded with us yet) is only 24 as well. The mixture of youthful energy & experience may be what is working for us at the moment.
Without giving away any trade secrets, how does the Critikill songwriting process work – who does what?
Usually a song starts with a riff from one of us which may be just a verse, a chorus or a whole song. Then we kick it around between us at practices until we have got the format for the song. Most of the time we write all of the music before any vocals or lyrics are added then once we have the lyrics, vocal & subject we will tweak the music to suit.
The lyrics on Brick Wall seem to be heavily focussed on the issues of your environment. Is it a “Livi album”?
Most of the lyrics were written by Jam who is from Leith but most of it applies across working class Scotland and even the whole of the UK (hopefully).
Like your previous releases, you put it out on your own Hippo Critikill label. Is this a deliberate DIY attitude on your part?
Yes, we have always been DIY. We did in the early days try to get tapes off to some of the indie labels out there but the competition was too much, although we did put out an EP on a French label several years ago. The label was run by a guy I met from my Swine Flu days so we already knew each other which helped. Since then we have just stuck to the DIY method. We just love what we do & all the money we make just goes straight back into the band fund for recordings & CD manufacture etc. If you want to do your own thing your own way, then you have to do it yourself.
How have you been marketing it? How has it been doing so far and how can the FnS readers get their hands on a copy?
We could probably be the worst marketing people in the world. We have never had any success with pushing our stuff & that is purely down to not knowing the best way to do it. For the past 10 years we have sold home made albums & EP’s at our gigs & occasionally through mail order. For the last few years we tried to promote using Myspace & we have over 5000 “friends” there, but that site is now dying a slow horrible death. We now have a Facebook page up which isn’t as good as the old Myspace for band promotion but it is getting interest.
We have just recently manufactured a large quantity of physical CD’s for “Brick Wall” and we now also have it distributed online for download. I think Amazon is the cheapest at £5.99 for a copy, I-tunes is a quid dearer (wtf???). You can buy physical copies at our gigs or you can email us at the address below & we will give you details on mail order.
What do you think about the relationship between the internet and music – a good thing or a bad thing?
I personally think the internet is good for music if used in the right way. I haven’t bought a real CD for about 2 years now because I just buy it online. It is easier to find, you can listen to previews & it is also cheaper. I have all my old CD’s & vinyl ripped onto my computer which is permanently plugged into my stereo so it is convenient. I found that the last few CD’s I bought were ripped & put in the box again without ever being played on a CD player.
Of course the other side of music & the internet is that piracy is rife. To be honest I couldn’t give a toss if people were pirating our stuff cos we never make any money out of selling it for real anyway. It would flattering if our records were being passed around the web for free as it would increase awareness & possibly allow us to travel more & do more gigs.
I think it’s a bit of a double edged sword really. Whilst it means that bands can get their stuff “out there” more easily, there’s a tendency to get lost in the crowd. How do you make yourself heard?
As I said earlier, we are crap at marketing so if anyone can give us an answer for that, we would be glad to hear it.
Which do you prefer, live or studio work? Is it the same Critikill we’ll get at The Moorings as is on the record?
I like both. One rule we have in the studio (with the vocals being the only exception) is that if we can’t do something live then we don’t do it in the studio. For example, you will never hear a third guitar overdub for a solo or lead part because we only have 2 guitarists. If it was actually practical in the studio we use, we would record it completely live but it is not physically possible to do so due to the setup.
The vocals sometimes get double tracked, but that is just the equivalent of putting a bit of reverb on when playing live.
So we would hope The Moorings gig to sound just like the record although we do tend to play a wee bit faster live.
Ever been this far north before?
Nope, Dundee is the furthest north so far. Been wanting to play in Aberdeen since before my Critikill days so don’t let us down folks. We’ll do our best not to let you down.
What’s your regular stomping ground? Livingston? Edinburgh? Glasgow?
Edinburgh without a doubt, Henry’s Cellar Bar & Bannermans are the usual haunts.
Ever been tempted to play at the likes of the Rebellion or Nice & Sleazy punk fests? Do any of you attend as fans?
We’ve never been asked even though we have put ourselves forward & yes, some of the band members attend.
If so, who are you looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival?
Crany is looking forward to Middle Finger Salute, Ex-Cathedra, Pennywise, Radio Dead Ones and Jello Biafra.
The Moorings generally goes for a mixed-bill approach to their gigs and it’s no exception the night you guys are on. What would be the dream Critikill gig line-up? Has there already been one?
One my fave bands that we have already played with is Leatherface. We would love to do a gig with Face To Face & perhaps The Descendents – that would be cool.
Any plans for the rest of 2011?
To play all the gigs we can & stay alive!
Nearly there now. It’s time for the FnS interview staples…..what would be your five desert island discs?
Too difficult to choose and, without the rest of the band’s input there could be an argument after this is published.
And finally, your favourite flavour of crisps?
Paprika (the ones in the red bag from Lidl). They remind me of a European tour I did in my early twenties.
Thanks Craig for taking the time out to talk to Flares N Seagulls. See you down the front next weekend.
New York Johnny
Critikill play The Moorings on Saturday 2nd July with Deadloss MF Superstar and Gutter Godz. 8pm doors, 3 quid in – bargain! You can buy their excellent “Brick Wall” album by emailing them at email@example.com