These shots were from a 2000 US tour by Leatherface, after they released Horsebox, probably their best album since the incomparable Mush in 1991. The show was at the Sapphire Supper Club in Orlando, Florida. I interviewed Andrew "Lainey" Laing, their drummer, after the show for an article in Heckler, which is reprinted below. Check out BYO Records for more info.
Leatherface, out of Sunderland, England, got started back in 1989 and has released an impressive collection of music in the last eleven years. They broke up in 1993, but got back together again in 1999 and are none the worse for the layoff. They released a split album with Hot Water Music on BYO last year, and this year roared back with one of their best albums, Horsebox. The album was the first in awhile to bring back some of the intensity of 1991’s Mush, which set a standard for all other 90’s punk rock to be judged against. Sounding like Motorhead on crack, Mush was searingly reminiscent of the best of Eighties American hardcore. The sandpaper rasp of Frankie Stubbs’ vocals brings out inevitable Motorhead comparisons, though the band’s name suggests the sound isn’t entirely coincidental.
Frankie has been one of the more impressive lyric writers of modern punk rock, with lines like “you feared attics because they were dark, now you fear Manson and you fear Marx” from Trenchfoot and “this is the gilt edge of the wedge, an average grey story, of a revolutionary who was boring too, this is the spilt milk stench of wretch, an average cold walk home, avoiding sunspots, soundbites like snowstorms” from Soundbites to the sentimentalism of Springtime “and somewhere in there, there’s a little child without a thought without a doubt that every cloud is silverlined. He is warm and everything is new, and everything is clean and everything is free”. Though much of their music was hard to get over here for some time, BYO has re-released some of their earlier work as well as their latest, and an English label finally reissued the long out of print Mush.
I caught up with them in Orlando near the end of their two month long tour of the entire US, and talked with their drummer, the formidable Andrew “Lainey” Laing. Though opening band River City High claimed Lainey had a great habit of reaching into your throat, ripping out your windpipe and showing it to you, he was too “knackered” to perform this on me.
H: How many times have you been to the states before?
A: This is the second time. Last year we did the small tour with Hot Water Music. This time we’ve done gigs with Avail, Dillinger Four, Samiam, and Hot Water Music.
H: It seems like a pretty ambitious tour. You’ve been on the road for awhile.
A: We started touring in an airport. We’ve never stopped, not two days off since the airport.
H: Is there much culture shock coming over here? I’ve heard a wide variety of impressions from English bands, some who expect to be shot as soon as they step off the plane.
A: Not so much culture shock, as the long drives. Scenery and that is gorgeous, but sitting in the van for twelve hours, we’re not used to that.
H: Any stereotypes about America confirmed or shattered?
A: No, not really, it’s all been good fun.
H: Have you been getting pretty good crowds?
A: Yeah, it seems to be going a lot better than it did last year. It’s like starting all over again, there’s only certain areas where they’ve heard of us. It’s like tonight, last year everybody stood and looked at us, tonight there were actually people dancing. It’s an improvement.
H: What inspired you guys to form in the first place? You came on the scene with a freight train intensity that was definitely on the wane with all the So Cal style punk and ska punk that was getting popular.
A: Dickie Hammond wanted to be in a band with Frankie, and we took it from there.
H: What happened with Dickie? (original second guitarist and co-songwriter of the band who didn’t return to the reformed Leatherface) Was he committed to Dr Bison or did you all get sick of each other?
A: To this day, I don’t know. He got on to Frankie about reforming the band, we reformed, then he left. To this day I don’t understand why. He’s got a new band, but I’ve never heard them. I’ve never seen Dickie again since he left.
H: Each recording Frankie’s voice gets more and more raspy. It’s gone from sounding like Lemmy of Motorhead to sounding like Tom Waits. Is that intentional or is he losing his voice?
A: I don’t think he’s losing it. It definitely has changed, though. I think it’s just the way he sings. Your voice definitely does change over time, I remember the first time I sang, and my voice is totally different now to what it was back then.
H: A lot of people hold up Mush as a standard to compare all your other material to, because it was such an intense album. Why, when it was so successful, did you move away from doing more like it?
A: That album, it was a freak. It came together that well. It was hard to do something after it, that album was just so powerful. Everything just came together at the right time. It’s just like the new LP came together at the right time. Horsebox and Mush are definitely my favorite albums, they’ve both got really powerful songs. For the first time we listened to ourselves, in the van, because someone gave us this CD of everything we’ve ever done. Listening to some of the early stuff, I’d say ‘gee, that was a classic’. Because normally we never listen to any of the LP’s, we just play them. It’s weird to listen to ourselves, you can see the improvement in our playing, professionalism in the studio…it’s weird.
H: Does Frankie write all the lyrics? (Frankie declined to be part of the interview, claiming after too many Rolling Rocks that ‘I’m so pissed it’d just be a load of shite’)
A: Yeah, Frankie does all the lyrics. I wrote a song on the new album (“Grip”), ‘cause Frankie said if you want to sing a song you have to write the lyrics for it.
H: I discovered you guys in a weird way. I was on a remote beach in the middle of nowhere in El Salvador, and there was a German girl from Dortmund who was with us. I borrowed a tape and her Walkman one day, and some of the greatest punk rock I’d never heard came blaring out at me. I couldn’t believe a band that good had slipped by my radar. That was Mush. Have you done a lot of touring in Germany?
A: Yeah, we’ve done quite a bit over there, for sure. We went all over - Italy, Czechoslovakia…we are pretty popular in Germany.
H: Sean from Wat Tyler told me that you guys did a European tour together.
A: Yeah, that was a crazy time! Tuck and Smithie, those are two characters and a half. Tuck, he’s got a very very dry sense of humor. He keeps a straight face all the time and you don’t know if he’s being serious or just having a laugh. They’re a fine bunch of lads.
H: What’s your football team, and don’t tell me Manchester United or I’ll have to show you your windpipe.
A: Sunderland, of course! Born and bred. I fucking hate Man United. They beat us yesterday 3-0. It killed me.
H: Do you all still live in Sunderland?
H: What kind of place is it? Frankie sings a lot about bleak industrial things.
A: It used to be an industrial town. There were shipyards there, but they’re all closing down. You know the Leatherface badge, with the ship in it? That’s the old Sunderland badge, but in the place of the football we put the ship
H: Are you guys going to stay together?
A: Yeah, we’re going to take a few weeks off when we get back and then we’re going to start working on a new LP. We’re not one of these bands that get back together and do one LP and split up again. The lineup we have right now, we’re like a family. We’re really close, we’re a really tight unit. I can’t see us splitting up anytime soon.
H: Good luck, then.