INSTRUCTION INTERVIEW, 29th APRIL 2003
He's a motormouth, he's brash, he's funny, he's
sitting in the street outside the East Road branch of Blockbuster Video
like some sort of punk rock busker, changing the strings on his guitar
before his band are set to support Funeral For A Friend at the Boatrace
this evening. Meet Instruction frontman Arty Shepherd. At the time this
interview took place his band had just released their 'Great EP', four
songs of biting melodic hardcore with undeniably grungey vocals, if
you want a journalistic description. In simpler terms, they fucking
rock and have barged their way onto the pages of Kerrang! and a host
of other major magazines despite being ostensibly unsigned.
How come you're back so soon?
Arty: "We don't have a record out in the US (laughs). It'd be
kinda pointless to tour there right now.
Have you had any offers from labels?
Arty: "We're talking to a bunch of people and we should be signing something in the next couple of months. I can't really say anything more, although I'd love to."
How do US and UK audiences compare?
Adam: "We have nothing to compare, really, because we've played so few gigs in the US."
Arty: "Everyone looks at us and says 'Who the fuck are they, man?' so we have to tell them the bands we used to be in (Errortype: 11, Handsome, etc.) so they have a frame of reference. On past experiences, the Hell Is For Heroes crowd was much younger than we're used to playing for, but that's cool because they're not a bunch of scene kids; they have no inhibitions. As for venues I'm used to really shitty-sounding places that are half-full, so this tour has been cool!"
The mainstream music media in this country has kept a lot of people dumb to heavier guitar music for years. With a lot of the kids coming to this tour the whole genre of music is new for them.
Arty: "Exactly. Stuff like Funeral For A Friend has existed in America for years and now it's reaching a mainstream audience it's so strange to me, as I never thought it would. But it's cool - fuckin' A."
New music that has to come from the periphery to make an impact, though.
Arty: "Yeah. Pre-manufactured shit isn't going to change anything. Look at the whole pop-punk thing: Green Day made a big impact and changed the approach the industry took to the genre to the point now where kids are listening to fuckin' Good Charlotte ten years later. What've we got, y'know? It's fucking N'Sync; it's fucking pop music made by pop producers. It sucks that we're now stuck with that cheesy shit. In 5 years screamo will have the same thing happen to it, I swear (laughs)."
(He proceeds to accidentally jab the sharp point of a machinehead into his thumb, drawing blood)
"Oww! Fuck - that hurt!"
That's not blown your gig tonight, has it?
Arty: "I'll be ok, thanks."
Do you mind talking about the war in Iraq?
Arty: "No, not at all. What war, though? Don't you mean that game of 'Risk' they had?"
Possibly. With all your travelling back and forth between the here and the US have you seen a lot of difference in the way things have been reported?
Arty: "I went to the protest march in London and it was much larger
than the protest in America. I don't know how to explain it except to
say that 75 percent of people in America supported the war, according
to statistics, and I think that's because a lot of people aren't informed
enough, perhaps because it's just such a big country. Our media is terrible,
too - we knew more about why the French weren't involved than we knew
about why we were. That's a very strange situation to be in.
Is it a more insular kind of reportage in the US?
Arty: "Yeah - they don't talk about much outside America. Half the time you're lucky if you get news from across the county, normally it's just your town (laughs). Seriously, though, people wouldn't know what Kosovo was or where Rwanda is, y'know? It's fucked. They need to make a movie about it to get people's attention."
How does it sustain itself?
Arty: "I think it's all tied into 'being an American' and 'democracy'. I don't know exactly what all that means, to be honest."
How closely do you think the propaganda is tied in with September 11th?
Arty: "(Plants tongue in cheek) Well Saddam Hussein was responsible
for that, didn't you know? As far as the American media is concerned,
Even if you're against the government you can't speak out against 3,000 innocent plane passengers dying
Arty: "Right, but let's talk about the rest of the world where
this shit's been going on forever. There's nothing right about what
happened on September 11th; we're all from New York, we were all fuckin'
there and we know what went on, but if it had happened somewhere else
- like the IRA bombings or all the shit going down in Israel - the American
media would only report it if it were in their or the government's best
interests to do so. If it makes a new enemy then cool, as long as it's
a convenient one, because they need that.
Before you've said your music is a reaction to where you're from, the recycling and commercialisation of punk rock and whole lot of other stuff. How much easier is it to speak out against that than it is to speak out against politics you don't like?
Arty: "Much easier - I know more about music than I know about politics, so while I do have some songs and some lyrics that are politically-based, they're actually more about my political apathy. A lot of these wars are based on religion - even George Bush uses God in his speeches constantly, which I think is a load of bullshit - and so it's just easier me to write about what I know and what I believe in, because I know more about religion than I do about politics, too."
Is it frustrating not to have a better knowledge of politics?
Arty: "Well, the other reason we don't write about that stuff is because there are four people in this band and they don't all agree on politics. I sit here and spout shit off, but maybe there's a reason someone (Instruction drummer Ti Kreck) might have gotten up and walked away just now. We're not Rage Against The Machine, we play rock n' roll, and I'm not here to change the world. That said, maybe playing in this bands means I can open up some kids' mind in the music world which will then maybe open them up to a more liberal point of view in general."
So how much can music and politics ever truly mix?
Adam: "As long as people walk away feeling something once they've heard our songs "
Arty: "Exactly! I think if you write lyrics that are worldly enough there can be as little as one line that really strikes you, that you can walk away and put in your own context. I do that; I think everyone does. It becomes very meaningful that way."
Adam: "It doesn't have to be a lyric; it can be a guitar riff, anything."
Arty: "Emotion is what you're meant to get out of music, right? You can tap your foot, make out with your girlfriend out beat the shit out of one another. Whatever."
How important is it for you to have the literal meaning of your lyrics understood?
Arty: "I used to write liner notes for my Errortype stuff. That's because I didn't want it left to interpretation, as I'd always felt, in the past, that stuff I'd written had been interpreted incorrectly."
Adam: "Also, with our stuff, if someone wants to know something about something they've heard or something they've seen, they can ask us. We're quite approachable."
Instruction have now signed a deal with Geffen in the US, which should give them something to defend when they eventually return to the UK with some money backing them that isn't their own. Their debut album is set for release early next year, with one more indie single set to precede it sometime in October. And, yes, it always takes me 4 months to type up an interview when there's not the glory of a 50,000+ circulation involved.