Sonic Boom Six

By paul

Paul: “Can I have all your full names, what you each do in the band and your ages please?”
Barney: “Well I’m Barney Boom, bass and vocals. We also have Laila, vocals, Ben Hameen, sax and vocals, Davey Hellfire on guitar and the infamous Neil ‘Madfish’ McMinn on drums. We have an average age of erm, 23. And a half.”

Paul: “Can I please have a brief history of how SB6 came to be a band? I believe some of you were in different bands in years past…”
Barney: “Well yeah, me and Laila and were always in Grimace, Dave was in and out of it, which was a ska-punk band from Manchester which did a few gigs around. Neil was in loads of different stuff, he’s a good drummer and was in a band called RatDog too, which I was also in for a bit. I met Ben through a mate at Uni (who was in Grimace for a bit too, big up Justin) and we became really good mates and he had been in loads of different bands. Not really any punk stuff, but he was into Sublime and jungle and reggae and Rage Against the Machine and stuff so he was into what we were really. In terms of Grimace, we had a tune on ‘Know You Skalphabet 1’ and ‘Compunktion vol 1’ and were briefly quite good in around 1999 but there was a lot of internal turmoil and for the last couple of years, very, very little got done. We were all moving away from ska and getting up and covering ragga tunes and stuff at the end and no-one really got it. And we got this silly little beef with another band in Manchester, which was six of one, half dozen of the other really but it just got so tiring that loads of cool punker kids would come up and say shit like ‘we heard you guys sniff cocaine’ and stuff… it got ridiculous. I’d go round handing out flyers and people who had never heard or met us were ripping up flyers, which really did do my head in in the end. Then we did go a bit barmy for a bit, listen to the lyrics of ‘the Devil Made me do it’, and so we split up… So what would have been the final line up of Grimace sort of became Sonic Boom Six in a way, although it was a totally different band. What happened was I was recording stuff at Uni for some project, which was basically the ‘Northern Skies’ (off ‘This Are Uk ska vol 3’) and a hardcore tune so I got everyone to come in and do it. Grimace were still owed a gig at Manchester Uni and about 4 months later I get a call saying ‘do you want to support Capdown at the Uni’? So I say yes and in a total Blues Brothers moment it was like ‘Lets get the band back together’ and we had a meeting at Wetherspoons on Oxford road where we discussed the new band. I was like ‘right I’ve got this idea and this name and we are all going to wear black, red and white camoflauge and do ragga-jungle mc-ing with hardcore punk’!!! After a few beers everyone agreed they were missing the band and we were like ‘this time we will do it right’. Then we sent a demo to Dave at Set it Off who gave us our first gig. With Capdown, the Foamers and Howards Alias in Wales. We were terrible!”

Paul: “Obvious one to ask, but which bands influence your sound?”
Barney: “Well, directly in terms of what people say about us we are generally compared to King Prawn and Capdown who have influenced us, but hopefully people can tell that we sound different enough from them to not be lumped in as copyists, just branches from the same tree or whatever. More like we all do punk with other influences. There really are so many different bands that influence our sound, in all different genres. I mean you have US stuff like Sublime, the Bosstones and At the Drive in, but there is definitely an emphasis on UK bands like Senser, the Specials and obviously the Clash that have inspired us musically and by the approach they take to mixing styles and stuff. But equally as important as those more obvious bands are a load of jungle and Hip-Hop and ragga stuff where it’s more about singles and compilations than bands per se. The first person who ever inspired me to get up and MC over drum and bass was some guy at a house party who called himself Stamina, just using a pair of headphones plugged into the mixer mic jack which was just as punk as fuck. So he was a huge part of SB6, cos vocally its very much about us getting the rapid-fire ragga energy… so big up Stamina, bless him wherever he is. But Beenie Man, Ganja Cru, Jack Johnson and Roots Manuva and a million others are pretty much as important to us as say, Snuff. Especially from a lyrical point of view and the way we present our style. And of course we can’t forget the Streets. Respect due there, Big up Mike Skinner.”

Paul: “Describe the SB6 experience in one sentence please.”
Barney: “A life sentence of ruffness with no possibility of parole. In Red, Black and White.”

Paul: “SB6 are ska/ska-punk/ska-core/….? Do you like being tagged into a genre or do you think it restricts bands from developing?”
Barney: “Well it’s not worth losing sleep about but yeah, it gets very restrictive when people pre-judge because of the ska thing. It does happen and we are constantly aware of it. It’s just that people tend to think of cheesy-happy-go-lucky Reel Big Fish wacky shit. Even horn sections do my head in now! Its just got so daft, with even DIY promoters saying stuff like ‘no ska’ as if it can only denote one thing. It’s lost all its meaning, ska is Jamaican music from the sixties for fucks sake!! If everyone thought of Operation Ivy and the Specials instead of Madness and Less than Jake when someone says ‘ska’ then everything would be a bit easier to be taken seriously but I see how it’s happened. Big Cheese said we took all the best elements of ska musically and politically so that was nice. Definitely we come from a ska-core lineage in terms of the scene and we are proud of that and have ska-core elements but are not playing ska per se. Look into the UK underground now and there is this new wave of bands like Adequate 7, No Comply and us and others that have come up and added their own personality to the ska-core thing, new sounds, but some people tend to think that if it’s remotely ska, they have seen it all before. I mean it’s so obvious with the whole emo thing that we have entered a new cycle so to speak in terms of punk fashion. But seeing as 95% of those bands do absolutely nothing for me then there is no point trying to run after that particular style like some bands seem to be doing. Fuck it. If people pre-judge it as ska, we can wait for them to catch us up. It’s the only way to do it. Trying to find rhyme and reason in other people’s actions is a non-starter. I mean if someone wants to call a tune that uses a mix of hip-hop, bhangra and hardcore ‘ska’ than that is their ignorance. If ska is dead, then whatever, we aren’t a ska band, long live SB6. In terms of the media and industry, yeah, I definitely do think that there is a very negative perception of the fact that the ska-punk ship has sailed away and its a bit worrying. But then again if I was into the Strokes I would find the thought of a gang of kids jogging on the spot in checkered shorts a little laughable. Probably the failure of Spunge to ‘deliver’ on a major label hasn’t got the movers and shakers very interested in this scene. But fuck em. The irony is we have Busted and Avril Lavigne dressing like us on CD:UK.”

Paul: “How would you describe the new record to someone who hasn’t heard it?”
Barney: “A short, sharp lesson in genre-terrorism. Ben Punktastic said ‘Notting Hill Carnival’ on CD form which was cool. But there’s a lot more punk there!”

Paul: “Are you pleased with the reaction it has got from fans and critics alike?”
Barney: “Fans, yes 100%. Like I have had people whose opinions I completely respect really ‘getting’ us from the EP and people like Mike Davis at the Lock-Up have been touting us as a very important band in terms of the UK scene. And I think that’s true because we are and we do open ourselves to a lot of criticism. In terms of the few reviews it’s had we haven’t been overjoyed but its only four tunes. My boy Ben Punktastic was well into it, but others seemed reluctant to commit too much in a way. Maybe it’s because there are only four tunes, but I thought people might have been a bit more receptive to the idea that we have done a mix of Bhangra and Punk with an Asian singer doing lyrics in Urdu and yet people bang on about Capdown and No Doubt. I think that for the first year of our existence we were in the direct process of finding our style and were afraid to go too far, so we did a lot of very shambolic live shows people hold against us. And Laila hadn’t really developed her MC-ing flow, which is now about the coolest and very important part of the band. Now we have to go back and set the record straight. I had a guy come up in Wales saying he saw us last year and thought we were shit and now we one of his favourite UK bands after getting the EP, so it’s doing its job. Incidentally the response to the drum and bass remix, that we did ourselves in my living room, mainly Ben did it, has been really, really positive. It’s important we did it ourselves, cos it has a real DIY ethic, and I know how much of a contrived, soul-less and pointless rock/dance remixes generally are. Some kids don’t know what it is even, but they identify with the energy of ‘Blood for Oil’ within a dance music context. Which is encouraging, because the thought that we are opening the minds of kids that just think of jungle as ‘townie’ music or whatever is a genuinely satisfying feeling. If they go out and buy some Aphrodite or whatever after hearing that then it’s great. I think Capdown have opened up the minds of a lot of UK punker kids to that vibe, we just want to go the whole hog and kick in the door. And I think that it is cool that in the UK that seems possible.”

Paul: “You signed to Moon Ska Records, how did that come about?”
Barney: “Well, we started by working with Liam at Zest Agency who knew us and liked the one decent tune from Grimace that we had. So Laila sent him a demo of the new stuff when we started SB6, which was very, very odd, but also had the mix of ‘Northern Skies’ that I did that eventually ended up on ‘This Are UK ska vol 3’ on Do the Dog, which I think made up for the weirdness of everything else. He basically organised it for us to go into a studio with Jerry Melchers and do a demo, which we were very excited about because he had produced ‘Civil Disobedients’ and ‘Surrender to the Blender’. We had all these high-fallutin ideas about doing a mini-album when we had a ridiculously short amount of time. It was definitely invaluable as a learning experience, because we totally mismanaged our time and ended up staying up for about 36 hours straight. Ben’s eye popped out of its socket but we got it done. And big up Jerry for doing it. We sent that out to most of the punk labels and sold them at gigs and that. After that we were just about doing gigs, we actually did a small tour with the Toasters which we got that demo done for and then just basically sent the demo to labels and waited. The actual link directly to Moon Ska was as much to do with Ace, who produced our EP, as anything. He saw us supporting a Japanese band called the Brahman in London and had heard a bit about us from the King Prawn guys who were down there. We spoke to him afterwards and he basically was totally positive about the whole thing and was saying that he would really like to produce us. Knowing the history of Skunk Anansie and the fact that he had worked with GGGarth, who produced Rage Against the Machine’s first album, we were definitely up for it and we said we were still talking to a few labels, including Moon. Lo and behold a week later or whatever we get Moon in touch with us saying they wanted to do a record with us, with Ace producing, You don’t know exactly what goes on behind the scenes but that was that really. We felt very bad about not doing the next record with Jerry, cos we said we were going to, but everything else seemed totally right. Next thing we know we are on the Smash it Up tour and at the end of that, Lol from Moon said, let’s start with an EP. Which, looking back was the best thing to do, even if at the time we were like ‘we wanna do an album!'”

Paul: “What was the recording experience like?”
Barney: “Ace produced the album and it was engineered by Christophe at Oxygene studios in Manchester. Ace is just a legend, seriously. I know it sounds like I would say that anyway but I can’t begin to describe what a top bloke he is. Its just all about the tunes and music which is great. The guy brings so much energy and enthusiasm into the room. Like certain bits we recorded and when they are being played back he’s stood there in all seriousness playing subtle air guitar and shouting things like “this bit… Yeah!!! He didn’t look at us as a ska-punk band which was great, he sees us as more in the vein of System of a Down or something. And the fact that someone who has seen and done what Ace has can be so obviously a fan of your music is proper inspiring. I think the factor of Ace in terms of his guitar tones was invaluable too. We expected a lot of pedals but we weren’t prepared for the amount of crazy effects he brought with him for Dave to play through. At one point in recording ‘Silent Majority’ I literally had to co-ordinate the four guitar pedals that were being used with my hands whilst Dave played. That was crazy… The fact that Christophe had produced and engineered a lot of dance and Hip-Hop was definitely attractive too. He knows the free party scene and the jungle thing so he definitely understood what we were all about. All the little dubby breakdown bits are Christophe sorting us out with the old delay and stuff so big up Christophe. It was pretty hectic obviously because it was all done in four days with the mixing included, but definitely a very positive experience. A few things we learnt were that we don’t need to stick down a million guitar tracks to get a big sound. My favourite part of the EP is the last extended chorus on ‘Devil Made Me Do It’, which is just one guitar, but a while ago we would have done about a thousand tracks. We like the EP and the recording enough to be going back there and in with the same people to do the album.”

Paul: “How does the songwriting process work? Who writes the lyrics and who comes up with the music itself?”
Barney: “The music is done as a band mostly but the ideas can come from anywhere. Some tunes are written totally alone, like Ben wrote ‘Northern Skies’ and I wrote ‘People Acklike’ but mostly it just starts with an idea and develops around in the rehearsals. Once we do some lyrics the music changes to accommodate the sentiments and stuff once Laila has written her rhymes. Like most urban music as opposed to rock, most of our tunes start with the bassline which is different than most punk bands I guess. And I make no secret of stealing stuff from HipHop and stuff and twisting it around. Like every song on Turbo has bits ‘referencing’ other tunes. It’s just a matter of spotting them all…! On the EP I wrote all the lyrics but that’s not an exclusive thing. I am good at writing the kind of Mc-ing stuff that’s kind of written to a specific political point, but Ben is better at writing full proper songs so we can expect more of that on the album. I think its funny that we are always labelled as a ‘political’ band now, which is basically because we aren’t singing love songs I guess. We don’t want to just be political because there is a whole gamut of other things to talk about. I most look to bands like the Clash who can mix social commentary with other observations on life as the perfect mix. I mean I don’t read the Socialist Worker or anything but I know what’s going on in the world. ‘Blood for Oil’ is as much a lambasting of the way that the media treat war as it is a comment on the Iraq situation. I just know every time I read a newspaper or watch the news I am disgusted with the way that the twist the truth so that comes out a lot. But the Political band stuff seems as hackneyed as ‘ska band’ in a way.”

Paul: “What is it like working with Moon Ska, who are probably the biggest UK indie right now? ”
Barney: “Yeah, it’s been really good. It’s still early doors but they have let us have complete artistic freedom which is the most important thing and have been able to put us in the studio and facilitate us making the music we want to make, in the way we want to make it so we couldn’t be happier. They have put us on tour, got the CDs and shirts done and made those little stickers and that. Lol and Sonia and Jon have been totally positive and have made us feel part of the family definitely. I mean, a lot has been made of the fact that its odd that they have signed us as this kind of more hardcore underground band rather than more pop-punk stuff that they are associated with. But if you look back they had Ex-Cathedra next to Uncle Brian in the beginning, so there was always a balance on the roster between the poppier stuff and more hardcore stuff and there is now from Farse to Whitmore. Zen Baseballbat too, who have recorded a new album for them are there to represent some weirdness. I think the thing with Moon Ska is that they are unashamed in actually wanting to sell Cds, rather than be the coolest label on the block which involves marketing to a younger audience and making videos and stuff, which some older punks find a turn-off but that’s the nature of the beast. When you think about how many CDs ‘Pedigree Chump’ sold and what Whitmore have sold of ‘Smoke the Roach’ compared to some bands that are perceived as ‘big bands’ on the scene you see how it works and why it is like it is. The people that are most vocal within the scene and few the people that come up to me and criticise the decision to work with Moon Ska aren’t the majority, which you have to remember. Fortunately most people are just in it to hear good tunes, not completely define their identity. I’d like to believe that the music does the lion’s share of the talking. I want to make music and meet people and have them hear me at the end of the day. It’s no point having a ‘cool label’ when you can’t make enough money to keep the bands on it and keep it going. The decision to go with Moon Ska was definitely a talking point within the band because with the fact that it is a bigger label means it has its detractors. But that also means they have enough funds to get things done which isn’t the case for all labels. As a band, we can’t just plug in and hammer out a tune in the studio like say many punk bands can because there are so many different vocals and weird things that we stick on, so we do need a bit of time. At the end of the day in ten years time I’m going to be happier knowing I worked with a label that allowed me to spend that time with a great producer in a studio and make the ‘Turbo’ EP, than having an inferior record on a label that made me look really cool to a handful of punks in 2003.”

Paul: “What is your stance on majors, would you sign to one if a label showed an interest?”
Barney: “Yeah definitely. I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say we wouldn’t. But it would have to be totally right with total artistic freedom. Some of my favourite bands are or were on majors like the Clash, the Police, the Specials, Rage Against the Machine. I’ve always wanted to sign to Island cos of their history. I mean, whatever allows us to make music and carry on doing this life is the main thing. Music is my life really, I think I was put on this planet to make music and for people to hear it, so if a label allows us to get our music to more people without diluting it then its happy days. We were dabbling with a major subsidiary development deal just before Moon Ska came along, but it was all a bit weird cos I don’t think they would have been able to do it right. They were talking lots of money though! I just think that if we suddenly turned up on a major without a history and fanbase I would be highly suspicious definitely. As it applies to the Moon thing too, I always try to balance how I would look at bands when I was 18 with what makes sense in terms of getting the music out there.”

Paul: “You’re from Manchester, what is the local scene like up there?”
Barney: “Well hopefully its gonna get even better with the opening of Roadkill Records and the website. The scene is good but it’s all a little fragmented between the various punk factions and turnouts are generally disappointing for the UK bands People know each other but there isn’t the sense of a really strong scene. Travelling around I have realized why it is like it is. Basically if there was a venue like Josephs Well in Leeds or the White Horse in High Wycombe or The Forum in Tunbridge Wells where there is a dedicated promoter and venue bringing in lots of different styles of punk bands it would be much better. Gigs are cropping up at Satans Hollow and the Bierkeller in an attempt to use other venues, which is good but there still isn’t the sense of a real base. It’s funny because with punk bands, the bigger the city certainly doesn’t mean the bigger the turnout, because there are so many alternatives. I think the other day No Comply played in Ashton when Lagwagon were playing in the Uni, so you know where most punks are going to go you know… It’s easier building a strong scene in places with less to do!! The turnout for the Whitmore gig in Manchester was appallingly low… One problem is that we have the Uni’s that suck up all the larger gigs which could be good for local supports to build more of a scene within. But the promoters there don’t give a shit about the grassroots scene so it doesn’t feel very punk there and they don’t care about local punk bands. There are smaller D.I.Y gigs from ‘Say it to my Face’ and ‘More than one Collective’ which are great and are mostly based around the Mumbo arts centre… We could do with a promoter like Yankee Boy from Swindon to book the Golf, Moon, Deck Cheese and Household name type bands that generally avoid playing Manchester but obviously I shouldn’t complain. Because at the end of the day we do get a lot more of the bigger American bands, even if the gigs are much less intimate.”

Paul: “Any funny on the road anecdotes that you can share please?”
Barney: “(American accent) Hey man you can’t ask me that! What happens on the road stays on the road. Nah, the first couple of weeks of this last tour were very hampered by a dodgy van that eventually died. But it really did cause a lot of stress and nearly ruined the whole thing. Hmmm. The sight of Dave pulling a stark naked Neil around his auntie’s kitchen by his cock after I had thrown him in a pond is unlikely to be leaving my head for some time. As is the sight of him being thrown into a skip on the last night of the tour. For which he kicked me in the face. I think the Migraine injections story is a bit too nasty to re-tell. You will have to ask me in person for that one. One really odd thing was when we played in Rugeley and they had all these Asian guys as the security. Laila, who, if you haven’t seen her is pretty obviously Asian was doing the spoken intro to ‘Silent Majority’, a tune about the fact that most people in this country are closet racists basically. So she goes ‘this tune goes out to any people here that say, I’m not a racist but, and then call Asians pakis and Chinese people chinkees’. She does this little speech every show. After the gig, this Asian bouncer comes up to us and is like ‘what did you say up there? Your not allowed to use that word’.
Obviously, Laila says well I’m Asian and attempts to explain the context in which the word was said. The most odd thing of all, was that he listened to what she said, and almost completely refused to compute what she was saying. It literally didn’t matter that she had the perfect alibi to say those things. He was still like ‘you just don’t say that word at all’ and then his mates come over and start staring us down. All night they are coming up and checking into me and staring Laila down. At the end of the day, the word of a strong Asian female with a message was just completely ignored by them, they didn’t want to understand us, they were not going to let her embrace that word in any way, which is bizarre. But its also very telling of what we are up against in terms of getting to a truly multicultural Britain. Shit like that just makes you more determined. I don’t like to dwell on the mentality of those guys because it depresses me.”

Paul: “Do you have any views on the UK scene at all?”
Barney: “Where the fuck do I start??? I could go on for days! For the most part I just think it’s amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s inspiring that we have this scene. The way we all continually operate at a level separate from the mainstream is the main thing. You know that NME and Kerrang! and the majors are all waiting for it to crawl up and die, and yet there are bands on this scene that consistently pull more people to gigs than the characters that they choose to champion and stick on their covers. The point is, that you don’t need a plugger, and agent, a hired bus, a hotel, a PA and all that to do a gig or a tour you just need records and your own channels. And whilst people bemoan the death of ska and stuff, this scene with its websites and fanzines and followers isn’t going to die. Because its not based on fads or flavours of the month, its based on people with a shared aesthetic that the music they enjoy and become inspired by will not come from the same conveyer belt system that produced Gareth Gates and Will Young. Seeing bands like King Prawn and Lightyear split up was obviously very disheartening, because you can’t help think that once you hit that glass ceiling the whole thing just grinds you down. Treading water is obviously difficult when you are not getting any younger and have bills to pay and are wondering what to do with the rest of your life. But you can’t dwell on the negative, it’s the memories and moments that those bands have had that are priceless and what its all about choosing to be in a punk band rather than whoring yourself to majors. The only problems I have at the moment with the scene is the mistrust and division that has started creeping in. Its directly from my point of view really, its more behind the scenes stuff, but labels and followers seem to be forming camps now and doing their own thing whereas even a couple of years ago it was less self-contained which had a more positive unified vibe. I think that people should stop splitting the underground into such pigeonholes and that comes from the hardcore D.I.Y side to the full on booking agent side. Often what defines a band into these little camps is less about the music and all about who they know. Something as simple as who you support on your first gig could define whether you end up playing to a room of vegan straight-edgers or a school-hall full of teenage girls. What we all need to realise is that the enemy is the system of the music industry and their promotional methods, not another band that you have read about on a punk website.”

Paul: “How did the recent Moon Ska tour with Whitmore and Chairmen of the Bored go? Did you get a good reaction?”
Barney: “Yeah definitely a good reaction. First thing to say is big up Whitmore and Chairmen because whatever anyone wants to say about it they are all top guys. We have become really good friends with those bands over the tour, Whitmore we already knew from Smash it Up. Whitmore get so much shit and I can see where it came from initially but you simply can’t deny the power of the three of them as a unit, Jay the drummer plays hard, Robb has charisma and can write a good tune, they are a proper band. Their stuff is lighthearted at times but it’s never novelty and gimmicky… And their new stuff is very, very strong. Look out for ‘Dim Blue Lights’. Chairmen of the Bored were great lads too and it is very early days for them. They still haven’t recorded anything, but they can write a great tune in a pop-punk stylee and are realistic about what they hope to achieve from this and are willing to put work in. It’s not like they are expecting to suddenly be on Top of the Pops, they are gonna be a proper band. The whole tour was great for us, apart from the van shit, it’s the first proper tour that we have done. We sold a lot of EPs and tightened up the live show. We still got up there and shouted ‘Yo’ and ‘check it’ and did our little tributes to Lightyear and King Prawn and slagged off Busted so hopefully some kids might have took something new away from it. When we started we used to get some younger punk kids calling us townies and stuff cos of the HipHop and stuff that we certainly make no secret of but that was pretty much gone this tour, probably because we have definitely become more convincing with the heavier grooves. I’m not realistically under the impression that we are going to be to everyone’s taste… Of course there were a few confused kids wondering what was happening up there when we were on but its like I said before… On paper you may go, “Whitmore are popular with a younger crowd, we are a bit more difficult, therefore it won’t work” but when you get to the gigs there is a mixture of people just wanting to see some punk bands and have a good time. Some gigs, like Leeds, York and Tunbridge Wells were some of the best that we have ever done.”

Paul: “What are your plans for 2004?”
Barney: “We are going to record an amazing debut album and tour it basically. Ben has to finish Uni but we definitely want to be getting out on the road full-time by the time he finishes his course. We aren’t gonna be wasting any time, do it like Jay-Z and drop an album every summer. But we will be dropping them in Spring instead! We are finishing writing the album now and are messing around with various concepts to get stuff that we have done at home like the drum n bass stuff integrated into the record rather than separate from it. But we don’t want it to lose that live feel or have to play to clicks live so it’s difficult. We have a few tours and stuff planned but its mostly going to be about getting a good record recorded initially. Maybe do a video for ‘Blood For Oil’ soon. The EP was really just a taster of our style. It’s in-your-face nature means it can lack a bit of subtlety, but on the album there will be a lot more singing with the MC-ing and some slower, lighter tunes. I mean you can take my word for it that we are going to be a band to watch next year, keep an eye out and your ears open.”

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