Despite no US release, in 2002 Miss Black America’s debut offering God Bless Miss Black America was named album of the year by Rolling Stone‘s Jason Cohen and Michael Krugman for their Well Hung At Dawn column. Tellingly, upon the album’s release they commented: “If this record was on a major label, MBA would be well on their way to being the Biggest Band in Britain. As it stands, they’ll just have to settle for being the Best.” There was no shortage of plaudits domestically, too. Sources as disparate as broadsheets the Sunday Times and Guardian, along with gossip weekly OK! all gave MBA glowing coverage. Underground godhead DJ John Peel championed the band, declaring their hometown Bury St Edmunds “the new Seattle,” and in 2002 MBA received three songs in the BBC end of year “Festive 50.” Initially, at least, the NME seemed to agree, proclaiming them “your new cult heroes” in a particularly synthetic attempt to classify the latest crop of UK guitar groups to emerge as “No Name” bands, adding in a review of the “Talk Hard” single: “Young and relatively beautiful, the earth remains theirs for the taking.”
However, the publication seemed to have changed its opinion on the group by the time of the album release, giving God Bless its first published review. This turned out to be one of the album’s few negative reviews. The result, given the publications sway domestically, and the band’s concious decision to avoid signing to a major label, was that national stockists HMV and Virgin cancelled orders of the album. Aside from severely limiting the records exposure, this caused the bankruptcy of MBA’s label of choice, the small independent Integrity Records. I’ve since regarded this as a travesty. During summer 2002, the UK music scene was awash with guitar bands. From June through September the likes of the Vines, the Hives and the Libertines were all touted as being the torchbearers of modern music, with some accuracy among the hyperbole (put downs aside, Pete Doherty always looked like a good pop star). I was seeing a gig per week, and got carried away with the media buzz. Of all the “guitar” bands I saw that summer, Miss Black America (along with another Bury band called the Dawn Parade) stood out as something special. Mixing the educated bounce of Pablo Honey era Radiohead, the charred intent of the Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible, and the positive energy of The Clash, they were probably the best live band I’ve ever seen. Yet a mixture of bad luck and questionable career moves (aiming to become the biggest band in the world without corporate backing) led to their relatively low profile.
Despite these setbacks, God Bless managed to sell 10,000 units, but the process of playing over 350 gigs with no industry support or financial rewards from May 2001- October 2002 took its toll, and Miss Black America split in November. However, contractual agreements to play a BBC showcase for the Peel show in Holland the next year caused Salinger-aliased front man Seymour Glass to continue the band with three new members. Many of the group’s fans (including the one typing this review) were skeptical, but Miss Black America continued. The new members seemed to bring a different mind-set and heavier sound than previously, and it was strange seeing a near completely different band playing the same songs live. Now, in 2005, (several lineup changes later), a second album Terminal has emerged. We caught up with Seymour Glass via the interweb for his thoughts as Terminal neared release:
Treble: What are you listening to at the moment? Have there been any records released since God Bless came out that have strongly influenced your sound?
Seymour Glass: I don’t think the music’s ever consciously influenced by other people — it’s usually the lyrics that get borrowed, stolen or appropriated from whatever book or film or magazine article I’m obsessed with that day.Talk Hard was the obvious one, it had direct steals from Radiohead and the film Pump Up The Volume, but there are loads more you probably wouldn’t guess — “Freefall,” off the new album, was inspired by Julie Burchill’s campaign to highlight the devastating effect the British Asbestos industry had on its employees and their families — thousands of workers in the industry, including her father, died of a particularly nasty form of lung cancer called mesothelioma, while the government looked the other way and pretended it wasn’t happening. Thing is, I try not to make my lyrics too specific – for one thing, I’m terrified of sounding like Dolores O’Fucking Riordan, but for another, I think lyrics have more effect when they’re more general. For instance, my Mum and Dad both thought “Reborn” was about them, but it was actually about Lee Miller, the wartime photographer, who’s one of my heroes. That said, “Chemical” is about my Dad, but it’s not like I mention him by name. Musically, I think we all influence each other `cause we’re all into different stuff, but the best album of the last two years for me has been The Disconnection by Carina Round, which is probably also the most criminally underrated album of all time. But The Darkness, The Libertines, PJ Harvey, Graham Coxon, Volunteers and Bloc Party are all ace as well.
T: You’ve recorded under the same name with a variety of different musicians since 1999. Do you see MBA becoming primarily a vehicle for your ideas? (A major contributor with revolving accompaniment in the manner of the Fall with Mark E. Smith) Or do you feel that the various guises of Miss Black America have been very much group efforts?
SG: Thing is, I never wanted people to leave, they just kept fucking off! When Mike was in the band, it tended to be me and him writing 50/50 of all the music, so when he left I just ended up writing basic songs on my own. But even if I write the basic song, as far as I’m concerned it’s still a band effort – it’d sound shit without Mat’s guitar or Chapple’s drums, so we all get credited and we’ll all make money, if that ever actually happens. I’ve no desire to be Damon Cunting Albarn, or some lonely miser who lives in a palace while the rest of my band rot in bedsits. Increasingly towards the end of recording Terminal we wrote more and more as a band, just jamming – “Chemical” and “Emotional Junkmail” were written that way, and it’s much nicer than just having one person turn up and go, “right, here is the song…”. But Miss Black America is always a band, and there’s never any hierarchy, because first and foremost you’ve got to be a gang, you’ve got to all be drunk and crowding round the same porn mags on the same stinking tourbus. I can’t be arsed with bands who have one star and three musos, they’re not real bands and everyone knows it. That’s why The Clash were so cool, and Elastica, and The Libertines, before Pete went and fucked everything up.
T: Obviously Terminal features an extensively different lineup to God Bless… Apart from your guitar and vocal contributions, the one other constant is Gavin Monaghan’s production. I was surprised by the extent to which the initial mixes from the new album seemed to share the spirit of its predecessor. There’s almost the sense of a romanticized sound coating being punctured (in a similar vein to Billy Bragg’s Life’s a Riot or the early Smiths records). To what extent do you feel Gavin has affected both works?
SG: Me and Gav work really well together `cause we both suffer from incredibly short attention spans, and we’re both mental. Pretty much everything except Mat’s solos is done in one or two takes, most of the extra guitars and vocals are all spur-of-the-moment… There’s no real planning, it’s just, “shall we have some Hammond there?”, “Yeah, alright, off you go,” bosh. The best example of how we work was on the first album, when we recorded “Montana” – we got Neil to play drums for ten minutes, Gav had a fiddle, then Mike put down some bass, then I stood in the control room for an hour and did three straight takes of guitar, totally making it up on the spot. At the end I broke a string and just hit the fucker, and the last sound on the album is my guitar hitting a milk bottle. If you were Def Leppard working with Mutt Lange, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen, but Gav’ll go, “that sounded ace, mate!” and it stays on the record. Other times, he falls asleep at the desk and then Andy takes over. Andy’s amazingly fast, you can tell him what you want something to sound like and he’ll do it in seconds. They’re quite a sweet couple really, although watching Gav destroy a Jamaican Ginger Cake is pretty frightening.
T: There seems to be a lot of gritty optimism in some of the new material. Given the ridiculously bad luck you had with distribution for the last record, which is one of my all time favorite albums, (and received a widely positive reception), I’d expected a very fraught follow up. Instead songs like “Freefall” and “Voices” remind me of the concluding sentiments in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. The sentiment appears to be that you’ve got to have as much fun and achieve as much as possible regardless of the negatives, and that notions of hipness, rather than being something to value or rail against, simply aren’t a worthwhile factor. Would you agree with this?
SG: Yeah, absolutely. What destroyed the band early on was that, finding ourselves suddenly thrust into the limelight, we began to judge ourselves by the prevailing notions of What Is Good and What Is Cool; we were on tour with the Queens of Noize, and they were awful to us, and instead of thinking “fuck `em, they’re awful”, I spent the whole week agonising about why they didn’t like us. And shoved into that whole “No Name” bollocks, we became paranoid whether we were as good as Ikara Colt or arty as Liars or cool as The Strokes. What we should have realised is that we were fucking good at being Miss Black America, and that’s all we needed to be. I’ve never understood the whole NME mindset, that only one type of music and one generic look can ever be good at one particular time. It’s like I said to you last time we met – I’m not so fucking stupid I need an angle to hear how good something is. I’ve stopped reading NME now anyway – I don’t know whether it informs or reflects the sixth-form indie kid mindset, but in my experience, from Uni, from working on building sites, in offices, in factories, restaurants, you name it, there is no mind smaller than that of a sixth-form indie kid. I mean, I despise emo, but at least emo kids are nice, and let you nick their eyeliner.
T: You’re releasing the new album through R*E*P*E*A*T this time round. I’ve also seen your own Sonic Midwife imprint mentioned. Could you clarify what this is and do you have any future plans for it? Are there any plans to release any of your work with the Charm Offensive?
SG: Sonic Midwife is the name me and Matt from the Khe Sanh Approach promote our gigs under, but I’d love it to be a proper record company one day. I know it’s the ultimate rock star folly, but it’d be awesome to have my own label. There’s too many wicked bands who can’t get a deal, and nowhere near enough Tony Wilsons or Bill Drummonds, people with a gung-ho attitude and complete disdain for the London industry cunts. The Charm Offensive have nearly finished the album, in fact it’s me that’s held that up `cause I had to concentrate on MBA, but that’ll be out on R*E*P*E*A*T as soon as I finish my vocals. Ooop…
T: What was the LMHR (Love Music Hate Racism, a UK anti-BNP initiative) gig at the Astoria like? I gather you met Morrissey and Mick Jones.
SG: It was fantastic! I made a total tit of myself with Mick Jones, just totally hero worshipped him, so I didn’t go and speak to Morrissey, just stared at him from 3 feet away while my girlfriend got his autograph. The last thing you want to do is make a tit of yourself with Morrissey. But it was really nice to see the Eighties Matchbox (B-Line Disaster) lot again, Guy’s a lovely chap, we always seem to bump into each other at festivals and bigger things. I hope they get themselves a decent record deal this time, Warner’s really fucked up with The Royal Society. The Libertines were locked away and no-one was allowed near their dressing room, so we didn’t get to meet them, which was a shame, but that’s fair enough, they’re proper stars now.
T: John Peel’s passing at the end of last year seems to have left a large vacuum within the UK music media. Can you see anything fulfilling some of his role in championing new bands regardless of label backing?
SG: Not on Radio One, but digital radio and the internet have allowed loads of brilliant little stations to spring up all over the country. In fact, if you listen to stations like BBC 6music or TotalRock.com, the spirit of Peel is very much alive and well. I was on TotalRock a couple of weeks ago and they were playing MBA and then Dragonforce and then the Beach Boys, then some skate punk, then Dolly Parton. Fuck remits and fuck playlists, once all radio is digital things will be a lot different.
T: I’ve enjoyed recent novels by Joe Pernice and Louise Wener. Would you like to move into fiction or any other mediums?
SG: My friend Hannah did a writing course with the Wener, apparently she was lovely. Erm… to be honest, it’s such a struggle getting albums made at the moment that I haven’t really thought beyond October. Maybe one day I’ll write more. After this album, I want to release a tourfilm, called Six Billion Mobile Phones – it’d be like Sonic Youth and Nirvana’s 1991: The Year Punk Broke, with live footage of us and all our mates’ bands, Volunteers and The Dawn Parade and Khe Sanh and whatnot. Whatnot! I said whatnot! Ha!
What are Miss Black America’s plans for the rest of 2005?
SG: Nudity, virgin sacrifices and meat. But we’ll probably put a single out at some point, just for a laugh.
Miss Black America’s new album, Terminal, is available online at R*E*P*E*A*T records The current line up of Miss Black America (featuring the return of Seymour’s `God Bless’ writing partner Mike Smith) tours the UK in October.