Posted July 6, 2015 by whopperjaw in Tunes

The Mekons: Adhering to punk’s fundamentals

The Mekons, photo by Derrick Santini
The Mekons, photo by Derrick Santini

A veteran punk/alt-country band with some 30 years of material in its catalog, this July the Mekons will tour select U.S. cities as a full band. That’s a real rarity for the group whose members are spread out all over the globe. Despite being separated by great distances, the current lineup has remained intact since the mid-’80s when it issued a string of terrific albums such as The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll and Fear and Whiskey. Their history is well documented in the film, Revenge of the Mekons, which was directed by Joe Angio. Singer Sally Timms recently phoned us from the “basement” of the Chicago law firm where she works as a paralegal.

You’ve been called the band that took punk’s ideology the most seriously. Is that accurate?
I can’t say that we are the band that took it most seriously. I think other bands did that. Does it affect everything we do? I would say yes. All of our decisions — even lifestyle decisions to a certain extent — are based on those ideas, which are really various actually. It’s hard to pinpoint but it’s the idea that you’re not reliant upon someone else to make something happen is really fundamental to punk. The idea that you really can do it yourself was a game changer for a lot of people who didn’t grow up as trained musicians. You could be in a band and you could go on tour and make records. You weren’t reliant on the machine to do it. You could do it yourself. I would say the band that is closest to the true ideals of punk and really makes it work is the Dutch band The Ex. They just blow my mind.

Were you in bands prior to the Mekons?
I met all these people in Leeds in about 1980. Prior to that, I was good friends with Pete Shelley from the Buzzcocks. I had a crazy idea about singing in this imaginary language, which I sang to him. I made a record like that with them called Hangahar when I was 18 or 19. They were the first band that did put out their own record. He had his own label. We recorded it in a day and put it out. It’s one of the things I love most that I’ve ever done. You can just do that and make a record. I did that and then I met the Mekons around the 1980s. I met the bands associated with that scene, which included the Gang of Four and loads of other bands who are part of the Leeds scene. I also played in the She Hees. That was kind of a joke band. It was entertaining. I did solo stuff. I did some country stuff. I did occasional singing with the Mekons and then joined in a full-time capacity in the 1980s.

Hank Williams is an influence. Explain how you happened upon his music?
To be honest, the country side has more to do with Tom [Greenhalgh] and Jon [Langford] than it has to do with me. Jon encouraged me to sing country because he was into it and my voice is suited to it. I can’t claim any real knowledge of the American country genre. I once sat with [founder] Rob [Miller] from Bloodshot and he played me some music and I said, “This is nice. What is this?” He looked at me in horror and said, “It’s Hank Williams.” I don’t claim to be an expert. When Jon was touring with The Three Johns, they met Harry Nelson in Chicago. He was a DJ at a radio station. He was a Mekons fans. He said we were like a country band because of the things we sing about. He started sending all this great American country music to them, not the crass commercial stuff but the old school stuff. Tom and Jon became really enthused and influenced by it. That’s how Fear and Whiskey came about but I wasn’t on that record. They were turning in that direction before I joined.

The shows in July are rare full-band concerts. Why is it so hard to get the band back together?
It’s nigh on impossible. Two are currently waiting for visas. We hope that is resolved shortly. It’s really difficult. It’s always been difficult because of the logistical constraints of having a band separated by two different continents, almost three with Lu [Edmonds] in Siberia. It’s really tough. People now have young kids. Tom has young children. Lu has a brand new family. It gets more and more difficult as we get older to make the time to get together. Even if it wasn’t that difficult, we wouldn’t be going on tour once a year in the U.S. It would be a pointless endeavor to do that. All things considered, it works out fine that every four or five years we manage to get together as a group. It’s a strange and hairy process. Last year, we went to Scotland and Tom and Lu said they couldn’t go and then Lu said he could go and Tom showed up halfway through the tour.

This is how this band operates. It’s basically do what thou wilt.

The current lineup gelled back in the ’80s. What has kept the group together all this time?
People ask us that. It’s not that hard. It depends on the constraints. If you want to function like a normal band and sell records and tour three months of the year or more, it would have imploded. We don’t do that. We do it when we want to so we are enthusiastic about it. The reality is we like each other and then get to trot off to different parts of the world and play music for people and make music. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend an occasional holiday.

Talk about the new documentary, Revenge of the Mekons.
We were not involved in the making of it. There were things that came out of early edits that we asked to be changed or pulled out. The director had the option to keep them in if he wished. All of us had different responses throughout the process. It’s fine and I’m happy it’s there. It’s weird to see yourself portrayed in a documentary and to see that much of your life distilled into an hour-and-a-half. I don’t think we’re a good barometer of whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. It’s what the people watching it get out of it.

Upon whom are you taking revenge?
Ourselves. I can’t see anyone else suffering. It seems to be the way. I would say we’re pretty optimistic. We’re playful so I suppose we’re taking the revenge on the idea that no one can tell us that we can’t do this. Those people who do have made us very resourceful. If there is a hiccup, then the first thing we do is burrow ahead. If something goes wrong, we want to make it right. It’s a nice analogy for how you can live your life. When you’re presented with problems, there are always alternatives. If there were no money for us to go on tour, I would never ask us to go on tour. People have to make whatever they do work within a comfortable framework for themselves so they don’t exhaust themselves. Does it work? How do we make it work? Last year, we went on tour in Scotland and because so many of the band members weren’t coming, we didn’t want to subsidize it with the band’s money. We didn’t want to lose thousands of dollars. We got sponsorship from Lagunitas Brewing Company who helps us out. They were fantastic. We got help from Bloodshot. Through a show at the Hideout that we called the “Hideout to the Highlands.” People came and paid and there was a raffle and we raised the money for our airfares. We made it work. Otherwise, it would have been so onerous, we wouldn’t have done it. When it’s not working, we figure out how to make it work and see what constraints we can put on it to make it happen and not make it unpleasant or horribly expensive.

The press release describes the band as musical miscreants. Is that accurate?
I don’t know, if miscreant means badly behaved. I don’t know how badly behaved we are at this point. We’re all pretty well behaved. No one has had to go rehab — yet. Who knows? Maybe when we’re in our eighties. We might end up doing things backwards.

Upcoming 2015 Shows












The Hideout (SOLD OUT) – Chicago IL

The Poetry Foundation – Chicago IL

Mineral Point Opera House – Mineral Point WI

Music Box Supper Club – Cleveland OH

Herr Street Stage – Harrisburg PA

Dogfish Head Brewing – Rehoboth Beach DE

Boot & Saddle – Philadelphia PA

Bowery Ballroom – New York NY

Jalopy (SOLD OUT) – Brooklyn NY

3S Artspace – Portsmouth NH

Middle East Upstairs – Cambridge MA




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