Monday, May 22, 2017

Victims Turns Twenty

This year Victims turns 20 years old. We’re not quite the Rolling Stones but 20 years feels like a lifetime in punk rock terms. I guess there are a lot of old bands reforming and playing again, and that’s what it is, I have no real opinion on it either way, but to have been playing together, consistently writing records and touring for twenty years is quite an accomplishment. Fucking amazing really.

26th. April 1997 was the date of the first ever Victims show. The place? Oxelösund, which I’ve since learnt is a small town just outside of Nyköping, the place where the guys, Andy and Johan, Victims two remaining founding pillars, call home. In April 1997 I was nineteen years old and living in Corby, playing in a metalcore band called Soul Cellar, three of whose members would later form Raging Speedhorn, myself included. But that was still a year away. It’s a bit of a perspective fucker for me when I think about the fact that I’ve been playing in Victims since 2009, which is now eight years ago. I played in Speedhorn from start to original finish for ten years. And even though it is now almost ten years ago since we split up, those ten years still feel like the defining decade in my life. They still form a massive part of my identity. What’s weird as shit now is reflecting over the fact that I’ve been playing in Victims almost the same amount of time and yet it doesn’t feel anywhere near as long. Sure, Speedhorn felt like a fucking lifetime, it was intense and often as draining as it was fun. Eight years of Victims have flown by though, and I still feel like the new guy a lot of the time. Ronnie Wood syndrome I call it.

Maybe it’s the fact that there is a large part of Victims history that I’m not a part of. I still refer to the records from those years as “yours” and not “ours”. And they’re still my favourite records. I’m very much a part of the writing these days, with each record I feel it’s more “we” than “you”. The fact is, I’m eternally grateful to be playing in this band and have huge respect for Johan, Andy and Jon, who has as much Victims DNA running through him as anyone. If it wasn’t for the fact that I started playing with Victims almost directly after Speedhorn split up, there is every chance I would have quit playing music a long time ago. As it is, I’m closing in on twenty six years of playing in bands. I formed Morphene in 1991 at thirteen years old, I’ve haven’t not been in a band since.

And to think when Speedhorn split up in 2008 I was convinced I was taking a break. Johan and I were both working at Debaser, this great music venue in the middle of Stockholm, right by the water near the Old Town. I saw hundreds of great bands during my five years there washing dishes, hanging jackets in the wardrobe and eventually working behind the bar, all the time honing my Swedish languauge skills, conversing with drunk people. Johan was the in-house sound engineer and the main man. He’s always the main man. He has that pondus about him, just carries respect. I was taken aback when on my first day, he came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re in Raging Speedhorn right? Great band!” in front of the rest of the staff and the bosses. I don’t know if he meant it as a welcoming present, giving me a bit of slack with the rest of the staff and easing the burden of not speaking Swedish at that present point? I don’t know. Maybe he just actually liked Speedhorn. But my first day at work felt a lot less daunting after that. It was like going to your first day at senior school and one of the older guys from fifth year comes up to you and tells you they’d look after you since they knew your older cousin, and in hindsight obviously fancied her. Kind of like that. Not to put too diffuse a metaphor on it. Anyway, from that moment on I knew I was going to get on just fine at Debaser and I knew that Johan and I were going to be good friends.

So when he started talking to me about the possibility of playing second guitar in Victims I was obviously delighted. Not only were they a great band, but they were active and toured all over the place. The only problem was I was still pretty busy with Speedhorn, although I knew that was slowly coming to an end. We said we’d keep it in mind, maybe try it out some time in the future. As time went by Speedhorn and Victims actually toured together in Scandinavia, and it was during those shows I knew I really wanted to join Victims. Although at the time they were really just finding their feet as a three piece and I was starting to wonder if my chance at joining them hadn’t passed. They were fucking brutal as a three piece.

And so it was. Speedhorn split up in late 2008 and I was immediately on Johan’s case about practicing with them. And I did feel that I had to push it a bit because they didn’t seem quite as sure anymore. After some badgering from my side though we set up a practice. Johan gave me a compact disc of their latest setlist for me to try and work out on guitar and practice to at home before we jammed. I was immediately on the back foot since the only song I’d managed to learn so far, No Reason, from the Killer album, wasn’t on there. That was the slower, more rocking song on the album. Later on at practice when I suggested playing that song Andy just laughed, “What song is that?!”. When I explained which one it was his laugh took a slightly more scathing tone, “Fuck no, that song is rubbish!” I would soon learn that Andy has a disregard for many of the songs from the back catalogue, much to my amazement. Anyway, I managed to work out some of the songs from the setlist cd but it was a bit of a struggle. I was having a hard time with the speed of some of the playing, it was at that time way faster than anything I’d been plodding along with during the previous sixteen years. The thing is, the songs were even fucking faster in the practice room, twice the speed some of them, and then live they went up a notch again. Halfway through my first show with the guys, at Kafe 44 with Mob 47, my forearm was so strained it was cramping and I thought I was going to pass out. Felt like a right prick. Thankfully it got better and I adapted. And funnily enough, those songs have since slowed down a bit and playing with Victims now feels completely natural. Must be an age thing.

Anyway, after a couple of pracitces the guys told me that they had an East Coast States toured booked in a few months time and did I want to come along. I couldn’t fucking believe it! On a few occasions over the months following Andy and I chatted about me being in the band, and he told me more than once that it wasn’t just the fact that they really needed a second guitar player, it was more to do with the fact that it was just nice having me around. In hingdisght I guess Andy and Johan were happy for someone new in the band to ease the strain of trying to keep up with Jon. And for a while I did. Those first few tours I cherished every moment of riding the Jon party train and documenting every hillarious moment of it whilst out on tour.

Last year we released the second album with me on it, Sirens, it took about five years to write. It’s not Metallica’s black album or anything, it just took a long time to write because we’ve all been producing kids and almost seamlessly overlapping each other with periods of paternity leave. Sirens is solid enough but the result of having certain songs on the album that are five years old is that you’re bored of them before they’re even released. Uncharacteristically, we’ve now finished writing a new record, well a twelve inch at least, not even a year after the release of Sirens. I think it’s by far the best stuff we’ve written since I’ve been with the guys. It’s a bit different, Johan has started writing riffs for pretty much the first time in the band’s history and now that particular genie has been released from the bottle there is no putting it back in. He’s gone mad, writing songs all over the place. Johan’s “The Wall” I’ve been calling this new record. Although, as always, we’ve all been very involved in putting it together.

Whatever this new record is going to be called, I think it’s going to be by far the furthest step away from Neverendinglasting that the band (we’ve) written. Not that we’ve written a Mr. Bungle record or anything, it’s still Victims, but a little different. I had to laugh when we started talking about new material. Andy was very firm with the idea that he wanted us to “think outside the box”, that he didn’t care about writing stuff that people want to hear, that it has to first and foremost be interesting to us. Sure enough, Johan wrote his first riffs for the first song on the record and it was pretty different. “Woah”, I thought, “We’re onto something a bit out there with this”. And then Andy started banging a d-beat over it. And so it was thus. Probably still inside the box, just that the box has been stretched a bit. The song turned out fucking great anyway.

I still love Neverendinglasting though, I still love all the early Victims records. I’m probably the only one in the band that even listens to those records. And it’s always me harping on about playing songs from the first couple of records live, which almost always are dismissed out of hand by Andy and smirked at by Johan. Which isn’t that weird I guess. It’s not always that fun playing songs that are twenty years old. I don’t listen to any of my old albums. You live with them intensely before you release them into the world and then you’re done with them. Anyway, to celebrate twenty years of being a band we’re playing a show in August, and maybe, just maybe then, we’ll get to play some of those old crackers.

Like I say, there is a lot of Victims history before my time in the band, and I’ve heard some great stories in and around the van and the guys over the last eight years. The first time they played outside of Sweden and Johan was really nervous, he still gets pretty nervous sometimes, but he’s not always been the most comfortable talking between songs, Jon normally takes that roll. Anyway, he was so nervous that on entering the stage and taking the mic he said “Hi, we’re Sweden from Victims!” much to the delight of the Skitsytem guys who were touring with them. Johan kept quiet on stage for a while after that.

Andy and food have been the source of amusement now and again, none more so than the first time the guys played the UK and were treated to the famous “punk stew”, which back in the day was particularly rank a lot of the time in the UK. UK food has always been a source of piss taking for most of the rest of the world. Whatever it was they were served at this particular gig in Leeds though Andy couldn’t bring himself to eat it. Not being the best with the English language at the time Andy walked with the paper plate of slop and held it out to the punk who had served it to him, “I’m sorry”, he said sounding genuinely sad, not able to find any other words. The punk though obviously didn’t understand what was happening and the two of them just stood there looking at each other for a while. This is one of Johan’s favourite stories.

My favourite story though is of Jon. Who else? The first time Victims toured the States, back in 2006, Jon broke his leg after the first show whilst fucking around with this friend of his in the car park after the show. They were play wresting and she ending up falling on Jon and snapping his ankle, or foot or something. The story of the hospital visit itself is pretty fucking brutal. Jon said that he was lying in this room with his foot pointing the wrong way, and eventually a doctor turns up. After a bit of preparation the doctor looks solemly at him and says, “John, this is gonna hurt”. He then yanks his foot back into it’s correct position as Jon screams in agony. For the pain Jon was given some pretty saucy medication and his leg was put in a cast. Jon is a fucking hero though and he did the rest of the tour, playing people’s basements for the most part, sat in a wheelchair, playing guitar and banging his head. The guys only had to cancel one show, and they did one other show without Jon before he was ready to join back up them. That show was in Richmond, and they did that as a three piece with Little Andy on guitar and no bass. It was at a roller rink and Baroness were the support band. The absolute cherry on top of this story is though that Jon had an alergic reaction to the pain medication he was which resulted in his lips puffing up like a fucking balloon! I’ve seen the pics and he looked like a Hollywood botox effort gone horendously wrong. I can only imagine the first show they played with him after the accident, Johan rolling Jon into the gig space in his wheelchair, plaster cast leg pointing the way forwards and insanely big lips hindering Jon from talking properly. “Hi, we’re Victims!”

“No shit”...

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