03 September 2009 (released)
07 September 2009
New Model Army formed in the early 80’s and took their name from Oliver Cromwell’s antiroyalist military force. They released their first album 'Vengeance’ in 1984. Despite initially riding the post-punk wave – with their strong left-wing views – they have always created passionate melodic music, performed live with huge amounts of energy, and have proven to be so much more than just an angry political band. Whatever box they have been put in they have always found a way out.
Despite being ignored by the media in the UK for a long time now they continue to have a growing and evolving loyal following in Europe and America. Over the years the line-up has changed, but Justin Sullivan – the main creative force behind NMA since the beginning – remains at the helm.
MN: Great to meet you Justin! Your 11th studio album is all set for release. How do you feel about the finished product?
Justin Sullivan: Yeah, I think it’s a really good album and it’s weird when you’re a band like New Model Army because in Britain – not elsewhere – we’re so far under the radar that a lot of people won’t get to hear a record that I think is great!
MN: Your last release, 'High’, felt really together – both on the album and when you performed as a band live. There seemed like you’d discovered a fresh togetherness.
JS: Bands go through a lot, especially over 30 years. When Robert [Robert Heaton, founding member and drummer] left the band it was obviously a new beginning. I worked closely with Michael Dean who joined, partly because I’m used to working with drummers and partly because Michael is flexible and nice to work with. The albums 'Eight’ and 'Carnival’ followed, both of which are quite conceptual and there’s not really a band thing happening there. Dave was living in Reading and Nelson in Colchester, so getting them involved in the day-to-day creative process was difficult. There is always politics when working together as a band, and sometimes it bubbles up and you find yourselves going through periods of mistrust of each other’s motives or how they’re playing and that then starts to come through the music. Which isn’t to say they aren’t good albums but they lacked the 'band thing’.
MN: Marshall Gill joined about that time
JS: Absolutely the right sort of guy with the right sort of attitude at the right time. Ever since he joined the politics have sunk down to the bottom. Now the five us are feeling well balanced and there’s a fresh trust, which started on 'High’. We worked with Chris Kinsley on producing that album, but the only thing with that record was that despite it being well conceived I’m not sure that it was brilliantly done. Tommy T – our manager wanted us to work with Chris again because he gets thing done. Tommy was terrified of me and my tangents, because left to me, I’d take 25 years to make a record! But the condition was that instead of using a fancy studio Chris would come to Bradford and use our very basic set up, which Chris did with a great deal of grace. As a band we felt very comfortable and the result is a performance of a band sounding like a band in a room, rather than each person just playing the parts in the right way at the right time without any mistakes. We rehearsed the songs and then just went for it, and except for the last track which was built up, nothing is done to clicks so everything speeds up – or slows down in the case of 'God Save Me’. It captures a lot of the energy and the excitement of the band.
MN: 'Ocean Rising’ is a track you recorded for your solo project a few years back and you’ve played it extensively live. Why re-record it and include it on this new album?
JS: Because playing it live with New Model Army it sounded different, so we thought we’d give it a go and record it and see if we liked it. And, yeah, it’s different, so we included it.
MN: OK. A couple of generic journalism questions now: Firstly, what are you listening to at the moment – what’s inspiring you?
JS: Do you know what I listened to all day today? The soundtrack to 'The Strange Case of Benjamin Button’, now the movie is OK but the sound track is really good! There’s a young band from Bradford, 'New York Alcoholic Anxiety Attack’, they’ve grown up lots since touring with us a couple of years ago. I love Alena Diane’s first album. I’m also a massive Gillian Welch fan. I haven’t heard a lot of rock stuff that has really turned me on for a while. I play in a rock band but I’m not really a rock guy.
MN: However, you’ve got Marshall Gill playing lead guitar. The riff to the eponymous opening track on 'Today’ sounds almost like Metallica!
JS: Yeah! Metal! Well all these rockers have their moments. Every now and then you hear a song that makes you pull the car over to the side of the road - 'One’ by Metallica, 'Firestarter’ by The Prodigy, 'Stan’ by Eminem, 'Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana. There are these songs that come on the radio, you’re just listening and you just know that this is something special. Every now and then rock does that for me. 'Queens of the Stone Age’ are one of those bands for me. I saw them at a little club in Sheffield at their very beginning and half way through their first song it was like falling in love. I’ll buy anything Josh Homme does – I think he’s brilliant. Like Killing Joke, Kate Bush, Gillian Welch, I’ll buy anything they do, in the sense that it might be flawed, it might not be very good but it’s always gonna be interesting.
MN: Plenty of your fans have a similar loyalty to whatever you create and put out there
JS: I guess so. I went to see a gig in 1979 that entirely changed my life - The Ruts in a little pub in Bradford, 200 people there. In the hour and a half they played it was wonderful, terrible, scary, brilliant, exhilarating, even upsetting – it was everything! I came out of that gig feeling as if my whole insides had been scrubbed out by a brillo pad. And that remains my template, so that every time we do a gig the intention is that people will walk out after feeling the way I felt that night. Some times we pull it off, some times we don’t. But that remains the same after almost 30 years.
MN: And it is almost 30 years and I’ve noticed that there are plenty of teenagers at your gigs
JS: Our music doesn’t belong to any era. There’s a mistaken belief in the British press that we are some kind of 80’s dinosaur trotting out the almost-hits of the 80’s to an ever dwindling, ageing audience, but not so. The audience we had in the 80’s has long since gone and we’ve got a whole different audience regenerated two or three times after. It’s the same with the songs. When we toured last Christmas our set-list only included two songs from before 2000, and they went down just as well. I can’t remember how to play a lot of the songs we did in the 80’s. I’d have too sit down, listen to the record and re work them out. More so, I can’t remember the feeling of those songs – it’s gone. I think life gets better the older you get: you stop worrying about all the shit you worried about when you were younger! Change – everything that is alive is subject to change.
MN: I’m sure you’ve got a song on the new album about that
JS: Probably. Basically I’m a pagan. God is nature and nature is God. I’ve always been interested in this. And everything follows similar patterns. Take the financial bubble bursting last year. It wasn’t avoidable – it’s the nature of capitalism. Though there was this great panic afterwards amongst the media and the politicians, the ordinary people didn’t protest on the streets. Most people simply shrug and know that sometimes there is a run of good harvest and then a bad harvest comes: we have good years and then a bad year comes.
MN: Last generic question: The future – any collaborations you would like?
JS: Aretha Franklin.