Thanks for asking me to do this, Colin. I’m going to avoid listing 10 bands that are blindingly obvious influences (yes, I’m sure we do sound like a Scottish cheap Off With Their Heads). I’ll try to focus more on what helps me write songs/gives me inspiration. Hope that’s alright. Sorry if I ramble. Plus, trigger alert and all that.
1. Punk Rock
I’ve listened to punk, in various forms and styles, for 20 years. From the early days of buying NoFX CDs at Tower Records, making and exchanging comps with mates and buying knock-off shirts outside shows; to downloading mp3s from AudioGalaxy to discover new bands (NoFX didn’t cover ‘I Want You To Want Me’ after all); to downloading full album torrents; to vinyl and Spotify and merch at shows. It’s been the one consistent genre I’ve always listened to. Playing in a punk band (whichever genre we fall into), it’s impossible not to accept how heavily influenced we are by a relatively limited genre. But also, I don’t know of any other genre which prides itself (despite often failing) on a good ethical outlook, stripped of the ambitions and vanity of other bands. Times change and you appreciate certain aspects of the music more, or get completely turned off by other things. My perspective has shifted a lot and some bands I never used to listen to, I now listen to all the time; and some of the bands I used to love, I’d probably consider to be assholes now. But I guess this is growing up. See what I did there? Plus, I can work up so much hatred for other music. As soon as I get a sniff of arrogance, or a whiff of insincerity, I lose my shit. The older I get, the worse it is. I didn’t mind the Chilli Peppers when I was a teen. Now all I hear is fuckin “wizza wazza warn ya, girl in Californya” or some shite like that. I can’t get passed that. Aye, punk though, I like that.
2. Frightened Rabbit
The only band I’m going to mention as a direct influence. I was late to the Frightened Rabbit party. I’d written them off as a folky Biffy Clyro, which was a huge mistake. Someone had recommended them and effectively made me listen to it. Musically they’re great of course, but what clicked was the lyrics. There’s a quiet line in ‘Dead Now’, which just simply states “There’s something wrong with me.” That was it for me. In all sincerity, I doubt I would’ve felt confident enough to write about what was going on in my head without hearing that. I’ll go one step further and say that I sincerely doubt I would have gone to get medical attention for my mental state had I not heard this. That Scott ended his life just cements them for me, as dark as that sounds. The relatable thing isn’t just the blues, it’s the grays, the constant 4/10 days: the life-long passivity and melancholy that can’t be shaken. Scott’s lyrics captured that perfectly and him choosing to end his daily suffering makes so much sense to me.
3. Being Sad
I love a good mope and there’s nothing better than a good sad song. The genre doesn’t even matter. I have a sad playlist on Spotify that I listen to religiously. There’s nothing better than sitting in on a dark cold night, listening to sad music and reading misery-lit. It’s quite fun to do. I laugh at myself just being a sad sack of shit. I try to think of lyrics and things that are quite tongue-in-cheek. Things you hear in sad songs you can pick at and twist. Going from mopey to suicidal. Although there’s genuine despair, I think it’s fun to poke fun at it too.
4. Scottish DIY Punk Scene
Sorry other countries, I don’t know your punk scenes well enough to comment. We played our first show with Make-That-A-Take in Dundee in January 2016. Before that, we’d only played shitty pay to play and free shows sandwiched between ‘the next’ Arctic Monkeys and ‘the next’ Metallica. We were very nervous about how we would go down with da punx and weren’t quite sure if we’d be treated as outsiders. The first thing that struck me was what a great sense of community there was. It was just a social event for people. The other bands were unreal as well. And we got a great reception. Everyone was warm, friendly and caring. And it was the same in Glasgow once we started playing shows with Dammit Presents too. Despite that, I used to have frequent panic attacks when we’d just finished playing. Jack was always good at packing my gear up for me and I would run outside and hide round a corner to calm down. I probably looked rude with my head down, pacing outside, completely ignoring everyone, but no one commented or seemed to care. They just chatted with me when I was done. Always warm and welcoming. Gradually the post-set panic attacks became less frequent and seem to have stopped. This is a testament to the warmth of the scene.
As much as it’s an amazing sense of accomplishment to get a good review, there’s nothing better than your mates telling you that they genuinely like your music or that your new song is class. I think Goodbye Blue Monday is the first band Jack and I have been in that our friends actually like. There are often times I’m writing a wee hook or melody and think so-and-so will love that wee bit there. It’s a great motivation for song writing. There have been times when I’ve sent a demo round to the rest of the band or a mate, and they’ve been like “yeah, it’s alright” and the song gets dropped instantly. What’s the point if you can’t even win over the people who actually like you?
I’m not a smoker. I’m not a smoker. I took up full-time dedicated smoking when I was 30. Jack had come round to my flat to look after me and have some beers when I was a wee bit too suicidal. Long story short, he accidentally left his cigarettes behind when he left. I was having a panic attack and couldn’t grasp onto any form of thought and didn’t know what to do. I smoked a feg out the window and it was the ideal intervention. There really isn’t anything else like it for a panic attack. Apart from the niccy buzz, it was like a sand timer. It gave me purpose and calm. About 3 minutes of slow calm inhaling, literally burning time away. Even my psychiatric team struggled to offer a better alternative. I go through phases of insomnia and I get stuck in my head. I’d just get up, open up the window and smoke a few while starting at Arthur’s Seat and the flashes of a lighthouse. It’s meditative. I find writing songs quite intense, so smoking allows a break, to slow down and think about what I’ve written, rather than ploughing on. I couldn’t write music without it. I smoked way too much since then, and have managed to “stop” and vape instead, but I still enjoy the odd smoke if I’m drinking or going through a rough spot. Plus, I don’t care what anyone else says, the best thing in life is an early morning smoke and a coffee.
I haven’t written many songs without self-harming. I’ve done it since I was 9 (at least this is the first time I remember doing it) and I don’t really know how it started. It carried on (“teenage angst”), and on (secret twenties cutting) and continues now. It links so closely to song-writing. When you’re unwell and you have been for a long time, you have the ability to keep a mask on. The self-harm is just a physical expression of the mental state for me. And the songs are a “creative” expression. The two are intrinsically linked.
The best lyrics come at night when I can’t sleep and my thoughts start spiraling. I come up with weird scenarios and have the darkest thoughts, most of which morph into lyrics and into songs at some point. The thing is, when it’s 4 in the morning, there’s no escape because there’s nowhere else to go or nothing with which to distract myself. Exhaustion can be a wonderful thing. I also end up coming up with melodies and hooks which is fun. It just plays over and over in my head, until I either forget it or record it. The riff to ‘Pills’ was written at stupid o’clock.
LaVeyan Satanism. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s helped shaped my outlook on life. The Satanic Bible is about 1/3 genius and 2/3 gibberish. For every on-point philosophical argument there is talk about witches and hexes. Ultimately, it follows the line of “I-theism”: there is no God, you have one life, Satan is the manifestation of human instinct, ergo be a c*nt if you want. It’s absolutely true. When you start thinking about it, you see it everywhere: competitive ambition, egoism, narcissism and self-indulgence (I’m aware of the irony). I completely agree with a lot of that, apart from the last bit. I’ve been writing songs about it. If humanity is inherently selfish by nature, and life is pointless, you can’t justify your own existence, so the only way to be ethical is to kill yourself? Life’s fuckin’ pointless anyway.
The biggy. The one thing that gets me through life, is knowing that I can quickly end it when I choose to. When things get bad, I have an itch in my veins which feels like an ulcer that I want to tear at. It’s an inevitability and a matter of time to be honest. Everything feels like I’m running out of time to enjoy and do things. It makes me work harder on writing songs and playing music, rather than cowering in a room; it reminds me to appreciate the days when I have clarity; it lowers my tolerance to bullshit so I like what I like and love who I love. I guess it gives my life purpose in a backwards way.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. If you're struggling with mental health problems there are people you can talk to. Samaritans is one of a number of fantastic charities set up to help people. Please do not hesitate to seek help if you feel like you need it.
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On Sunday 23rd of September Goodbye Blue Monday are playing the New Cross Inn with Triple Sundae, Half Strikes and Batwings. It's going to be a great night, find the details here and come along!