1. I hate to be burdened with procedure and tradition but the only way to start an interview is with a question that sets out a stall, a stall that gives insight into the band and what they are about. So, Headsticks, introduce thy grand selves, explain the raison d'etre, the aim of the acoustical unit, why the chosen style and why the name Headsticks?
Headsticks are a four piece band based in Stoke on Trent and Crewe playing all original songs in a sort of folk meets punk meets roots style,...raw, honest, and bloody passionate! We have firm beliefs and have no affiliation with any political party or organisation....we believe firmly in working for the common good and encouraging others to do the same, something which is becoming more and more difficult as more and more of the population retreat within the confines and comfort of their own little bubble!
The band started really as an acoustic/folk band, but the very nature of the song's content saw a more direct and confrontational style develop...not something those with their heads buried in the sands of that genre would openly welcome generally, so as the sound developed, so the search for a suitable audience began!
The name 'Headsticks' comes from the term for the winding gear at the head of a colliery....a common sight in this part of the world until the era of that old whore from number 10......we wanted a name with local significance, so it was either coal or pottery terms. Most of the pottery terms had either been done, or weren't that usable...though The Saggar makers bottom knockers was considered as was The Fire Clays....we are told on a regular basis as we travel this land that the term is actually 'Headstocks'...but it seems that both terms are used, so were bloody well sticking with it now!
2. The first album received, what must have been, some gratifying acclaim and must certainly have set you on a good footing to make greater strides. How hard was it to create that opening collection and what challenges are you meeting as regards the follow-up album. I always cringe (in a pleasurable way) when a band start in such a stunning way as I know that when the standard is set initially high the punters 'expect'.
'Muster' received some wonderful reviews....embraced by the punk and folk fraternity alike to be fair, national mags, national press even, and more positive reviews on on-line mags/shows than we could have wished for...loads of airplay too, UK, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia...and continued airplay on all sorts of shows to date....so, yep, very gratifying especially if the message of the songs has hit home rather than just the tuneage itself!!! That may well be a lot to ask as so many folk live in their own comfort zone, their own bubble and can't see beyond that!
We worked hard to create this, the songs had been played live for 12 months or so previously, so that helps massively....they were well bedded in shall we say and we just needed to get them down and treat them with a bit of love and affection!!! We're fortunate in as much as that our drummer Tom, has a small studio which he runs on a part time basis, basically for the love of the music rather than to earn a living, so we had the luxury of not being under any specific time restraints...and that helps no end, relieves pressure and allows a bit of expression, experimentation and general luxury!
As for the follow up, well, we've started gigging new songs and we just aim to follow a similar process, though want to ensure we are seen to be progressing at the same time....we're keen that what we produce on record can be replicated to a large extent in live shows, and at the same time want to try and encapsulate the energy of a live show in our recordings. We will try new ideas, if they work, then grand, if not well, we'll keep trying until we have a product that we're 100% content with....where it takes us, nobody can foresee, but what we've achieved this far with the help of some good old souls is not to be sniffed at, and more and more influential folk seem to be homing in on what we are about....we are causing a gentle stir it seems, all we can aim to do is to continue in that vein and stay true to ourselves and our ethos....
3. Apart from all the positives have you yet received any constructive criticism that you feel puts you on the back foot and tests your resolve. I know criticism can be a very delicate matter but I feel it is essential agent used to create rewarding progress - thoughts please?
To be honest we've had little in the way of criticism of a negative nature at all whether constructive or not.....we had one less enthusiastic review in major high street glossy magazine, but that was someone who spent more time belittling the literature we send out with the album when submitting for reviews etc. than reviewing the actual album...which I think was a very low swipe and a pointless exercise for all of us! Maybe one thing we have learned, rather than been told or criticised for is that the album was not as radio friendly as maybe it could be....we wanted a sort of hardened , slightly brash sound, and you generally find that much of the folk meets punk genre recordings tend to be very warm.....you don't notice when playing the album, but sandwich the tracks amongst other, shall we say, more established acts in the genre and it's not as warm...but at the same time many of these bands have spent literally thousands and thousands and thousands on their product in a bid to progress through the ranks...we're aiming to do it through honesty and integrity and bloody hard work and slowly but surely it's working we think!
4. Honesty is a crucial term here, one that will undoubtedly cause many problems for you if you strive to maintain that ethos. How do you view the musical arena - honest or dishonest, has it improved or got worse over the time you have been involved and how do you hope to make that breakthrough?
Headsticks is not just about the music, that's a major point first of all.....if something goes against our ethos, but will see us progress then it will not be entertained...we've already proved that, and I'm not going into details about the various occasions...but we stand for what we stand for and will continue to do so. I'm not that qualified to view the musical arena to any great extent....there's cliques within it at various levels, but unfortunately that's the nature of the beast, in any walk of life those cliques are there. We're not going to pretend that we are something we are not just to fit in...we are Headsticks, a grafting band from Stoke who do actually give a shit! Having said that, and I'm relatively new to the whole punk rock scene, let's be honest, I have to say, in a very short space of time I've met a lot of bloody good people...no pretence, just people who seem to actually care and are happy to wear their hearts firmly on their sleeves.....I've never felt so welcome anywhere in my life as I do at the Punk gigs and festivals....that's what makes this worthwhile to be honest!
5. Excellent to hear indeed and long may this be the case. Moving on and how about the song writing process and the influences involved. I listen to many, many sounds out there and your tunes especially don't seem to be the easiest of constructs. Are these constructions a hard battle to get right as regards emotional accent, melody and power and if you could use any one song as an example of your hard work, creativity and bloodied perspiration which one would you ultimately choose?
Well, I only know one way of writing...I don't set out to do anything complicated and just do what comes to mind if it works! Our process works along the lines of me writing lyrics and basic melodies (when I say write melodies, they are in my head and not on paper...that's beyond me) then I work with Doon (guitar) and we forge a basic version of the song...this is then presented to the rest of the band, and it develops from there really! The occasional song is chucked on the back burner and one or two into the bin! With regards to the emotions involved in a song, well, I only write songs that have subject matter that is emotive really....I've tried writing happy songs, good time sing a longs, but it's best I leave those to other people...there's enough folk out there making a decent job of creating entertaining, light hearted music to please the masses......and that goes within the punk world too...some cracking bands doing a great job of producing something that everyone wants a piece of! Look at those Dirt Box Disco fellas!!! Genius in its simplicity and you can't help but get involved!
As for the one example epitomising all we stand for, all we strive and graft for....well, from 'Muster' it has to be 'Flatline Town'...honest, to the point lyrics with a fairly decent melody, apparently it's infectious we are told....a bit like chicken pox I guess. As I said before we're just starting to gig some new songs and we have a couple we feel are as good if not better than 'Flatline Town'...initial reaction suggests that too, so fingers crossed!
6. I see you are playing a wide range of gigs with many slants and generic variations (something I encourage all to do). Is this a stance set to continue and is it forced from a belief that all sub-genres are just too inhibiting and too suffocating for their own good?
Genres, sub genres, sub genres within sub genres...neither here nor there to us really! We seem to have a cross section of those musically inclined taking note of us....biggest issue we have is that we're too brash and in your face for the true folkies, and too gentle and reserved for those out and out punks, but yes, we'll continue to play to whoever wants to listen, whoever gets what we are about and embraces our willingness to accept/tolerate/consider everything around us for that matter. I think we are unique in as much as though we blend folk and punk, we do it unlike others who call them self folk-punk....I think we are smack, bang in the middle of the two genres where as others may be punk but have a banjo or mandolin chucked in the mix, or maybe all acoustic but a bit raw...we're none of these....we are definitely the only band I have come across doing it this way....I'm happy to be corrected on that by the way...if there's more of us out there, than good, let's meet!
Folk and Punk are very similar in many ways....two great bastions of the protest, the upstart, the two true genres that seem to attract those who have something worthwhile to say, those who won't toe the party line.....two genres that both seem to encourage musical insubordination!
So, yes, we're happy to open for Spear of Destiny, post punks of high renown, to open for Lindisfarne the iconic masters of folk-rock....to headline our own gig in a boozer to whoever wants to listen...or to play at a benefit for a cause that deserves support. Those traditional folkies who believe they are the keepers of the tradition do little more than stifle it, keep it breathing on a life support machine rather than encouraging it to flourish.....I'm sure there's the equivalent in the punk world too, though to date I haven't met them, (though I think I know a man who has).
7. Next one and ambitions - both in the band and in life these are necessities to keep the force moving. Over the years I have seen many bands lose ambition and just tick boxes for a payday and deliver a blind eyed set not worthy of attention. I suppose complacency and idleness are ever-creeping bastards to be wary of. What are you ambitions as regards life and music and how do propose to keep 'motivated'?
We'll, I can't see idleness ever becoming an issue; I have to be doing something, not one to stagnate for more than a few minutes at a time...and I'd say that goes for Headsticks too! If we're not gigging or rehearsing then we'll be booking gig, writing, sorting merch....every last moment we have spare really. Obviously we have to put things into perspective as we all have full time jobs, and three of us have children....the family must always take priority and it's the jobs that put the cornflakes on the table...though we do our best to squeeze jobs to allow us to shoot off early if necessary or pinch a day here and there ...we're lucky to either be self employed or work for understanding people!
Ambitions for the band are just to continue, hopefully, to provide a quality product....we hope to climb the so called 'ladder' but what that actually means I don't have the faintest idea....as long as we enjoy what we do, we'll keep going....if or when that enjoyment should dry up, well, that's the time to do something else, no point flogging a dead horse for the sake of a few quid.....our message is more important than the dollar signs! As for personal ambition...well, I just want to keep doing what I'm doing...hopefully I'm a decent Father and partner, and hopefully I can keep providing a decent standard of living for the family....and continue to achieve honestly and with as much integrity as is possible!
8. Life is all a balancing process as we know but ideally what would be your perfect week and how would you use it to draw inspiration for the band?
Life indeed is all about a strategically planned act of balancing as many possibilities as is feasible! As I said, and as with anything in life, and people care to forget this far too easily...you get out what you put in! It's not to say you'll always get out your fair share, and it's not to say that if you get more than your fair share that you have to keep it for yourself is it? There's enough to go around...and that is what I am able to take from the juggling act (that's a metaphorical juggling act by the way, so don't turn up at a Headsticks show expecting to see me on a mono cycle hurling petrol sodden chainsaws into the air whilst belting out 'you're killing me America' and severing a limb or two.....not yet anyhow).....be decent to each other, to family, friends, people around you...the ones you know and the ones you don't....that's what it's all about, and that, more than the kicking over of statues and burning down of government buildings, is what the revolution is about.....honesty, integrity and working for the common good. It shouldn't be rocket science, but it seems to be for many! I guess the trick is not falling into that quagmire of apathy and not allowing the rot to ensue.....operation dumb down is well under way as we all know...we can halt his process slowly but surely by simply learning how to socialise with each other again....getting to gigs, to the boozer, to the theatre, to the art gallery, to the park, into the countryside...embracing all this and working together to get others to adopt the same mindset.....there's so much out there....ditch the mainstream, that's TV, radio, media in general, diet even.....the revolution can come simply by people starting to look after themselves and others physically and mentally and socially, to actually give a shit and climb out of the security of their warm, safe bubbles! It can't be that difficult can it? Or maybe we carry on as we are as species destroying everything in sight......we can always eat the money when there's nowt left to eat can't we? I think I got on one there...sorry!
9. One facet of the Headsticks output is the feeling that there is a distinct combination of love and anger flowing in unity within the very fabric of the songs. Both emotions are crucial aspects of life and, I feel, music. Is the outcome pre-planned, wholly natural or something you work very hard at creating?
The song writing process is really organic....each song develops in my mind without any planned structure, definitive subject matter, or single emotion....they just unravel as they go on, and I'm so driven by what is going on around me in this world....it's really difficult not to get angry when you see what is happening! Those major corporations, Royal families, so called political masterminds, media moguls, religious leaders even, all pulling the strings, planning our futures for us, whilst many of them, have the most questionable ethics....it’s incredible that they are able to get away with it, but they do, and they will continue to do so, until we all not only get a little angry, but actually wake from our slumber and do something constructive. Having said that I can see a lot of good in people around, they are just blinkered and driven by the mainstream, and as long as they get to watch Coronation Street and Ant and Dec and get an upgrade for their phone they really don't have to care....but I don't think this makes them bad people, I think it makes them products of the society that has been created by those aforementioned!
As for love, well, I have tried to write love songs, but they seem to come out as anti-love songs if there's such a thing, and I don't know why! Maybe it's because it's easier to write songs that allow you to become a character rather than be autobiographical? I'm not sure about it....I should be able to write a decent love song bearing in mind I have myself a sensational Lady! but does anybody really want to listen to me whittling on about my bed of roses in custard castle? Nope, it's far more interesting to write about the twisted love affairs, or broken dreams etc. even though they don't exist to me!
Emotion within the delivery of the songs though, that's not pre-planned...that's the only way I know...and whether we're playing a set where we are supposed to be being chilled and laid back or not, it's difficult because of the nature of our songs not to go at it hammer and tongues! I've tried it but without success!
10. Regarding plans - if you were up against a wall and had to map out a rough sketch of the next 5 years for Headsticks give us an insight into what you want it to be and how you would like it to go? What bands would you like to play with, any areas you need to invade and perhaps one or two split singles down the road (always a good idea)?
Five years is a long time when playing in bands, but it would be good to continue the path we are taking...to meet new people along the way and forge friendships and relationships that hopefully benefit all parties concerned rather than just us, or just them. We have to work together and hope that people feel the same for mutual benefits, without those benefits being to the detriment of others! That's my philosophy in life in general and hopefully that follows through to the band's ethos too. It would be great to be playing festivals across the country and abroad...would love to go to Europe and do some gigs/festivals, but with family and work restrictions that would probably be limited to a couple of days here and there realistically.
We're keen to grow a fan base, it's happening slowly but surely, so we need to play wherever we can....we do seem to be able to get our hands on gigs in most places, but we need to ensure that those gigs are worth while affairs and that we're not just turning up to be 'the turn' for the night....we need to be playing to audiences who not only get the music, but embrace the sentiment too; unfortunately that sees the market base diminishing...we're very much a niche within a niche! A London gig or two is a definite priority though!
In terms of playing with other bands, well, we're happy to play with anyone who has similar ethos really...whether that be an established band or a grass roots one, we'll happily give it a go! We've played with some good acts so far....we enjoy playing with the guys from Merry Hell, they're on our wavelength though much more folky than us, but their punters really get into what we are doing. Gigs with Spear of Destiny were brilliantly received and they were pure class, decent folk too and again their punters were very receptive to us, so it'd be good to play with them again too. We have no definite plan that says we must play with this band, that band, the other band...we'll take what comes if it's likely to work...we recently played with Folk Rock legend Lindisfarne which was great, then it's a gig with D.O.A. all different things to take from each and every experience...so let's keep doing that....though I guess I'd love to do a gig with The Ruts! I think they're one of the best bands I've seen over the years...tight as hell and oozing quality!
As for working with other bands on recordings, split singles, compilation albums, podcasts etc....yep, we'd be more than happy to be included on these...again if it works for all parties and if it's relevant material.....we're talking to various folk about this at the moment! Two compilation albums, a split single/ep possibility and a split album (4 bands)....see what happens...let's spread the word however we can, and let's do the same for the others involved....surely nothing to lose as long as we work together on the projects.
11. What challenges do you want to set for the band and is there any subject matter you have not yet dealt with in your songs that we can see come to fruition?
Challenges to be set.....simple...keep working hard at what we do, don't lose focus and ensure the new material is at least as good as what we have already produced.....if we don't, well, I can think of one cantankerous old goat who'll be breathing down our necks! There's no specific target set....we just need to keep doing what we're doing but ensuring we continue to enjoy it....if we don't enjoy it, then what's the point?
Subject matter is governed by what happens around us....I'm relatively easily agitated by what I see around me on a daily basis, so until there's a pretty drastic change in society, there'll be plenty for me to write about! It's going to take a huge change in people's thinking for society to change....thanks to the work and ethos of that old whore from number 10, we have two generations who know nothing more than selfishness...I'm alright Jack syndrome! It's generally regarded as being acceptable to progress no matter what the cost for others....how we turn that round I've no feasible solution...education? Difficult when there's not enough who are able to think away from the mindset that is now so ingrained into this society.....we can try, we can keep trying and never give up the hope! Having said all this I'd love to be able to write a real feelgood tune celebrating the good people....but whenever I try this it just gets soured by what happens to the good people and becomes something completely different! Maybe a song about claiming back 'the beautiful game' from the millionaires and billionaires too.....I'm working on this one as we speak....third round of the FA cup, football specials, scarves tied around your wrist, quagmire pitches, orange footballs in the winter!
12. And finally - give one last heave-ho, give us a mission statement to admire and a reason to keep supporting the Headsticks cause - I need no convincing but there are one or two out there who need to wise up - you sir have the responsibility?
Mission statement as follows:-
Musical insubordination at each and every feasible opportunity....honesty and integrity, lyrics that matter, that hopefully can make people stop, think, and hopefully act on positively.....passionate performances, quality recordings too hopefully! Time will tell, though as it says in one of our, as yet, untried songs 'Time is callous, Time is cruel, she'll cut you down and treat you like some strumpets fool'....hopefully for us it will be neither, and we will continue to enjoy this voyage on the Good Ship Headsticks, as we navigate these murky waters! All I can say is jump on board people, it's going to get a bit feisty out there from time to time...but it's going to be well worth the time and effort!