It’s been almost forty years since brothers Stig and Rob Miller joined up with Andy Hoare and Clive Barnes to form Amebix. It was 1978, two years after The Sex Pistols had played their breakout Marquee gig and the same year that saw The Ramones turn ever so slightly pop with their release Road to Ruin. The long and well documented history of Amebix is one that has watched the underground crust punk/metal crew garner the praise of some of the most elite in heavy music with bands like Neurosis and Bathory citing the band as a direct influence on their own music. The band’s style of punk was grittier than their contemporaries, setting them in a category that remains wholly their own and one that we’ve hopefully not heard the last of. SfB talked to guitarist Stig Miller recently about the band’s history, the evolution of punk, and what he anticipates for the future of their music in this special two-part interview feature.
photo credit: Fin McAteer
What brought you to music in the very beginning, Stig? What was Amebix born out of from your perspective?
Thinking about it, I grew up in a real small town, and there wasn’t really any opportunities there for anything or for someone like me, really. There wasn’t any opportunities for doing anything artistic where I came from, and it really was that Amebix was born out of boredom, unemployment, frustration, and lack of opportunity – just something to fill in the days. A lot of the time. Which eventually developed into something different. I mean, originally we started out doing A Band With No Name, which is a kind of semi-joke band, really, but it was a way of us actually learning something about how to play an instrument. Not in a normal way, but the logistics of setting up equipment and playing. But my take on it is that it was born out of lack of opportunity, boredom, poverty, and frustration.
Do you think people are still artistically compelled today by those same things, specifically with regards to poverty, or has that motivational aspect changed somewhat from your perspective?
I think in terms of the fact that anyone can make a record now, and anyone can make a piece of music – I mean, if you have the basic knowledge, that’s the amazing thing about digital recording. But, in those days it was completely different. My view of musicians then as a seventeen year old guy was that they were kind of like magical, special people that kind of came from another planet. You just didn’t know anyone that played an instrument. You didn’t know anyone that was in a band, really. It’s a strange way of putting it, but these people seemed like they were gifted or something.
Like you had to go to music school for a hundred years and learn to do all these different things, or be like Jimmy Page or something. The opportunity to just be a normal person and play music was something that only punk music brought to people, and people don’t quite understand that now and what a huge difference that made for things. At that time, to be a musician was just a stupid dream for most people. Unless you had money or were in the industry already or had contacts with the son or daughter of some rock star or something, there really wasn’t a chance of you doing music in any way or in any serious capacity at all.
Now that the issue of opportunity has pretty much been completely flipped on its head, do you see oversaturation as a kind of new impediment for today’s art and music world?
Yeah, I think possibly oversaturation. It’s a great thing and a bad thing, really. Anyone can make a piece of music, and anyone can put it up there, but it’s like for me, personally, if I’m making music, I’m sitting here going over it again and again. But it’s like when you have Facebook and all these different things, and you put a comment up, and then you’re not really sure if that comment was such a good thing a week later. You put a piece of music up that you just recorded that you thought was great at that time, and then it’s out there. There’s nothing you can do about it getting it back. [Laughs] So I think people tend to just kind of bang these things off and chop them out. I’ve always been into the thing of really working on something and making it something special that I know I won’t hate in a week or two, so that it’s something that I still think is good late on. It’s a nice way to do things. But it takes some time to do that.
There’s something intrinsically punk about the kind of self-reliance that social networking has brought with regards to opportunities for the heavy music scene. Do you see those core ideals or punk ethics as having stayed largely the same since Amebix first formed, or has there been some drastic change for the punk mindset since then?
I think people are saying the same things that they used to back then, but thinking about the internet and the essence of the internet itself, sharing, is a kind of punk idea if you think about it. The free sharing idea is something that, I believe, wouldn’t have really – I think to a certain extent a lot of the ideas wouldn’t have happened without punk music and the idea of the free sharing of things. And I think that just spread out onto the internet, and people are sharing their music, sharing their pictures, and sharing everything else. To be honest, the thing is with the internet, we’re a whole nation now of fucking typists. This is what we are now.
We’re at this stage now where we express ourselves through a keyboard. Everything we do now is done through a keyboard. We don’t get out there and go and see gigs and talk to people or actually hang out in real time. It’s all done in a virtual way, so people say things that maybe they wouldn’t say in normal, every day life, and they behave in ways that aren’t necessarily how they really are as a normal person every day. So I can’t be sure of the integrity of a lot of these people when it comes down to meeting them face to face. Anyone can sit there and type “Anarchy! Blah, blah, blah,” all day long or any of these things. There’s a lot of things with it, in general, and there’s a lot of people that have huge profiles in the internet sense, but then you actually meet them, and they’re not quite so loud or everything that they appeared to be.
When we first started doing this, this was a thing that was born out of word of mouth. I mean, even gigs were small affairs, and it was not a select group but people that wanted to belong to this thing. Gigs and tape trading – all these things were set up on a kind of network of bands and places to play, and these were all set up by the people either in the bands or friends of the bands, and that’s how it would be. I think in America, to a certain extent, that’s still carried on, at least more so than over here. In a way that still exists over here, but not like it did back then. I think in the US, you will have the enthusiasm for it, and obviously there’s a lot more people in America than there are over here, so when you have a scene over there, you’re probably gonna get more money actually coming into the scene to keep it going than you do over here.
It’s interesting you say that, because so many American musicians I talk to are constantly sending up Europe’s accommodation and appreciation for art and music, more so than what they see in America, at least.
I see what those people are saying in that situation, specifically, but that’s because they’re Americans coming to Europe. It’s different if you’re actually from Europe already. It’s like when Amebix go to America. Yeah, people want to do everything for you and help you out, and that’s great, but it’s similar when American bands come over to Europe. People want to help you out and do everything for you, make sure you’re comfortable and that everything’s cool. To play in this country now I think there’s still a kind of subculture of people that wanna do bands.
I mean, I go out and see bands occasionally. Not a lot because there isn’t a hell of a lot of people I like to se, but occasionally there’s something I’d really like to go and see, and it’s good. But I’d say that the internet is a good thing for that, yeah. You’ve got your Facebook page and your Bandcamp, and you can bang up your posters or whatever, but there isn’t that word of mouth thing like there used to be where you’d actually meet up and go ‘Whoa, have you heard this band? Here, check this tape out. It’s fuckin’ great! Here, listen to these guys. This is really extreme stuff.’ There isn’t that so much anymore, but people’s word of mouth is online instead.
You mentioned “extreme,” and that’s also another one of those divisive words with heavy music today. Having seen the vast amount of change that you have with heavy music over the years, do you see that word as really being relevant now? Is anything extreme anymore?
No, I don’t think that there’s anything really extreme out there. All music now in the rock music genre is kind of accessible. When we first started doing Amebix it was considered extreme music. It isn’t now, because we’ve had Nirvana and all of these other bands. That kind of commercialization of underground music or punk music or however you want to put it has had its day in the sun, I think. Punk rock to me wasn’t really about the music. It was about the attitude and the self-determination – to make something out of nothing, which is what we were about. We had no idea how to play. We weren’t trained even in the basics of playing anything at all.
We couldn’t even play an E chord when we started but just by experimenting and playing about, it comes down again to the idea of magic and art being a form of magic, which is to create that something out of nothing. It’s a fucking magical thing that I still really love that you’re pulling ideas out of your head and putting them into reality or pulling them from somewhere or channeling something. I’ve always found that to be very exciting, and I still find that exciting now. As for what people call punk rock these days, people are dressing up with big, spikey hair and saying it’s punk rock music. Very few of the people involved with it, and I’m not saying no one does, but there are very few extreme or eccentric characters in music or really much else in the arts these days. There’s just not very many.
Going back to you, personally, how have you seen yourself evolve both as a person and as an artist since those early punk days, Stig?
It’s evolved to a certain extent, yeah. The thing I find that I’ve tried to maintain is simplicity in the things that I do. People can go ‘Yeah, it’s easy to play,’ but the thing that I’ve always liked about rock music, in general, is the fact that it’s not supposed to be hugely technically proficient. You shouldn’t have to be able to play every scale and everything like that. I always try and step outside the blues format and the different kinds of scales that people use and try to do something else. When I started doing it, it was kind of pretty original at the time. It’s not so original now.
But yeah, I’m hoping to keep making original music in form or another. The thing with originality, real originality, is if you’re gonna go for real, pure originality then it’s almost always unlistenable, really. We’re working within the confines of people being able to listen to something and feeling a connection with something without feeling completely fucking alienated by the sound. It’s easy enough. I could make a record of fucking screaming noise which would just completely alienate everyone, but then again, I wouldn’t have gotten anything across to them.
I’m kind of stuck in this thing at the moment where I have to make music which is able to pull you in but also try to maintain some sense of originality. The important thing for me is to maintain personal integrity as a person while doing this and not let all the rock star fucking bullshit affect me at all. I don’t really make any money out of doing Amebix. I don’t make anything out of it at all, really. I do it for the love of it.
Thanks to Stig for his time.
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