England’s vastly influential Amebix are one of the bands that defined the term crust punk in the early 80’s, and their incendiary anthems have inspired everyone from Neurosis to Sepultura. Indeed, it’s rare that you’ll attend a punk show and not see an Amebix patch emblazoned onto the back of somebody’s jacket, which is testament to the lasting impact their music has had. The band has recently reformed, and last year’s ‘Sonic Mass’ LP saw them breaking new ground whilst retaining that unique Amebix spirit. M3 got in touch with frontman Rob Miller to talk about illegal downloading, low royalty payments and whether music has been devalued in our current society…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Amebix – My name is Rob Miller, I am a Swordsmith on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, as well as Bassist/Singer for the band Amebix.
What inspired you to form Amebix? What are your own musical backgrounds?
The first wave of Punk gave us the idea to form a band, as it was a time when the archaic rock n Roll circus had been taken down, and the new idea was that spontaneous art was possible for everyone, regardless of technical proficiency or talent.
My musical background had really been in the Glam rock era, T Rex, Slade, Bowie, it was not a big jump to appreciate the punk ideology.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I still love vinyl, but like a lot of people, I got rid of mine in favour of CD back in the 90s, but vinyl is still superior. Mainly as a full aesthetic piece of work that can be handled and appreciated as a whole package.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Yes, that was why we set out to produce Sonic Mass as a coherent work in its own right, something that required an investment of time and attention, I still believe that my own musical experiences in the past were about making time for the music, allowing it to inform you, the impression now is that people regard music as disposable, free and unworthy of any kind of personal investment.
Since reforming, would you say the internet has affected how you operate as a band, and if so, how?
It makes communication faster, but in a sense it has also taken away the inherent mystique that can be attractive about certain bands. Recording or sharing ideas over two Continents is now possible, everything can be acheived faster. I was shocked to find that our last album leaked three days before release and spread like a rash all over the web before we could do anything about it. What pisses me off about that is that people who steal your work then seem to assume that they have a right to critique it too.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
In my present experience I find this to be true, Sonic Mass did incredibly well critically, making the year end list of a ton of respected publications and sites, yet sold little more than our first album did when the band was entirely unknown. The obvious problem is that without some income there is no re-investment in future work, the last album was something that I put everything I had into financially and have yet to get anything back from three years of work.
Why did you decide to reissue ‘Monolith’ as a sliding scale (or ‘pay-what-you-want’) digital download through Moshpit Tragedy Records?
That was done out of spite against the record company that had released Monolith, from 1987-2012 we have so far been paid £200 in Royalties, thats right… two hundred pounds… for 25 years of sales. I thought well fuck you.. if we cannot get anything for our work then give it away,or at least see what people would pay.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The answer being…… very little. Again, it’s all free sweeties for people who just shallow graze and press skip.
Do you feel that music is still capable of bringing about change or influencing political decisions?
I dont know, music is more like a fuel that helps ignite the lives of people who are drawn towards their own particular political ideals, I don’t see it as a catalyst for direct change, just as the soundtrack to an individuals personal awareness.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
I really dont know, it seems to me that there is, in a sense, too much choice and that is bewildering. When I was growing up I would look hard for new music and treasure it, but people are flooded with it, and not necessarily of a consistent quality either. Music has become ubiquitous, it is everywhere and as a consequence undervalued, it is played in the elevators of our existence to an inattentive sheep like citizenry who are illiterate in almost every aesthetic sense.
Finally, what does the future hold for Amebix?
At present I am writing new material and will be considering what avenues there are. I feel a personal senses of loss regarding music, it is as if all meaning has been taken out in favour of genre friendly conservatism, but then again I am an old fart now so its probably just me ;)