SUBHUMANS: IT JUST MAKES YOUR BRAIN LARGER
As the frontman of influential English anarcho-punk band Subhumans and punk/ska groups Citizen Fish and Culture Shock, Dick Lucas expounds against war, corruption, corporate greed, and systematic cultural oppression. Subhumans formed in Southwest England in 1980 and experimented with rock tempos, blues melodies and instrumentation not usually heard in traditional punk. Splitting in 1985, they entertained several brief reunions until reforming more permanently in 1998 with an extensive tour of the UK and U.S., and continue to perform regularly. Rotating among an incestuous mix of musical projects, Lucas has remained steadily active with Citizen Fish—which shares several Subhumans members—since 1990, and recently regrouped with Culture Shock, a short-lived band formed just after the initial Subs split (featuring several members who went on to form Citizen Fish). Subhumans plays Thurs., Oct. 29, and Fri., Oct. 30, at Los Globos with Blazing Eye, Generacion Suicida and more. Lucas spoke by phone just before performing a recent show in New York with interviewer Linda A. Rapka.
I was your pen pal when I was 12.
Dick Lucas (vocals): What? Really?
In the early 1990s, soon after I discovered punk and the Subhumans, I sent you a letter in the mail and you actually responded.
Dick Lucas: Wow. I think twice in my life … before email, it was only twice in my life when I had no letters left to reply to.
Do you still write back to fans?
Dick Lucas: Yeah, you know—I try to. Of course now it’s all by email.
At the first Subhumans show I went to, someone threw a shoe at your head, a crowd of people jumped onstage and unplugged your equipment, and we were all pepper-sprayed.
Dick Lucas: I remember one massive show we did in San Bernardino in 1998.
That’s the one.
Dick Lucas: That’s right—a shoe did hit me in the head. It was the most ridiculous show we ever did. The place was the size of an airplane hangar. It was just stupid. We were just so minimalized by the whole event. We were on a massive stage standing as close as possible to each other just to remind ourselves of what we actually were: a punk rock band. There were two to three fights breaking out every five minutes off in the distance. The power went out and the crowd started chanting ‘bullshit,’ and the security guard came out with his batons and pistols and whatever else was wrapped around his waist looking at me saying I had to tell all the people to get off stage. There were about 200 people on the stage who wouldn’t move at all—they were just shaking my hand saying, ‘Hey, Dick, great to meet you! Will you take a picture?’ Luckily the sound came back on and we were able to keep on playing.
You’ll be returning to California for several shows this month, with two shows here in Los Angeles.
Dick Lucas: This time we’re playing Los Globos. We played there before a year or two ago, and it was fantastic. There were more people onstage than anything—it was almost ridiculous. But it was wonderful because everyone was so enthusiastic and into it. The close contact of that show is what it’s about.
The L.A. shows are just in time for Halloween. Any surprises planned?
Dick Lucas: No, we English don’t do anything as keenly or manically as Americans do. We are usually over here and avoid the weird masks and chucking of pumpkins at each other. It’s a bit silly really. It’s almost just another Christmas—an excuse to sell plastic stuff to people and make a profit off what was originally a spiritual moment historically.
I think people enjoy Halloween because they can escape their reality, if just for a day.
Dick Lucas: It’s a shame we live in a society where we have to escape our own reality to be happy.
Your lyrics raise a lot of political and social issues, from war and corporate greed to systematic cultural oppression. What is the most significant issue facing the world today that you feel most compelled to create a conversation about?
Dick Lucas: The biggest in the world today is what will happen if we continue the way we’re treating the planet. Estimates I’ve read about say we’ve got about 85 years before the food runs out. That and pollution, the ice caps melting… the environment, in one word. I think personally feeding the food we grow to animals who consume such a vast amount of these resources—and then eating the animals—is a dumb way to go about it. We should leave the animals out of the chain altogether and go vegetarian. Not necessarily for moral reasons but out of necessity—it’s better for the planet. Underlying—or overlying—our problems is that people’s greed goes before need, perpetuated by the banks, governments and the whole corporate way of dealing with everything that the 1% use to keep us tied down by economic chains.
These problems have persisted for a long time. Too long. Is there hope?
Dick Lucas: There’s got to be hope. Without hope, that’s it—game over, everyone goes back to being selfish and debased and not doing anything nice to anybody else. It would become every man for himself, and there are too many people doing that already. Hope has to spring eternal. It’s when enough people come to realize that their lifestyle is supporting the status quo, and the status quo is not supporting their lives on the planet. People changing their own personal behavior, en masse, makes a lot of difference.
I’ve always been curious about the inspiration behind recording your friend Steve Hamilton’s song—and a personal favorite of mine—‘Susan.’ A dark piano ballad of sorts. It’s quite an unexpected departure from the traditional punk oeuvre.
Dick Lucas: Steve, a local friend in England, wasn’t in a band and asked, ‘Can you do something with this?’ And I thought, ‘This is quite good.’ I used to like messing around on piano so I sat down and worked out how it could fit to a piano tune. It was recorded on [guitarist] Bruce’s grandmother’s piano onto an old-fashioned tape recorder, the kind where you press play and record—clunk!—with a cassette tape. I played through the song with the lyrics in front of me a few times, with the lead break in the middle just made up every time. Then we got to the studio and Bruce recorded bass and some clicking noises for some reason. There was no sort of ‘It’s not punk enough!’ or whatever—we just did it. There’s a guy Shannon in Ventura who has learned it on keyboard, and we had him on stage in California to perform it live with us the last couple of years. We’ll see if maybe we can perform it again at Los Globos. Although that might bring the crowd down a bit.
You should have performed it in San Bernardino.
Dick Lucas: That might have have started a riot.
The last Subhumans studio album, Internal Riot, was released in 2007. Are there plans for a new record?
Dick Lucas: Our drummer Trotsky lives in Germany and it’s very difficult to get the time to get together and practice. If we all get together over four days, the new songs need to be played a lot. Internal Riot took a few years to get all the songs written. It’s on the list of things to do. High up there. We’ve got a few new songs but nothing is ready quite yet. There’s another dysfunctional thing going on in that our original bassist Phil is learning ‘The Knowledge’ to become a cab driver in London. It’s an immense task that takes three years of learning and passing a series upon series of tests. He’s approaching the end of it but luckily we have a chap called Jay who’s able to play gigs while Phil’s busy expanding his brain cells. It’s a fact that cab drivers’ brains actually increase in size physically. The dendrons and neurons actually grow in order to have the capacity to hold all the new knowledge.
Does this make you want to become a cabby?
Dick Lucas: It doesn’t necessarily make you smarter—it just makes your brain larger.