by Degsie Pevner
I’m as amazed as anyone that I’ve survived so long in this business. Many of my contemporaries didn’t live to my age – and there are many more who would be dead now if I had my way. This isn’t a profession famed for longevity. There are bands who are content to reach a peak and stay there, wallowing in nostalgia, whiling away the time until retirement. As you’re reading this I’m guessing you don’t aspire to be one of them. You’ve got to change, to adapt, and keep it interesting if you want to create music for generation after generation to rock their bollocks off to.
‘But, Degsie, how do I do that?’ you might be asking. ‘I’m under contract to Gibson to include at least two widdling solos per song, and if I’m honest nothing much has happened in my life since 1994. How do I keep it real?’
Well, it’s very simple. In fact, all you need to do is write four songs.
1. ‘Drugs Are Actually Bad’
Life finally caught up with me following the success of my second album – I had been touring non-stop for three years and the lifestyle was starting to get to me. When you’re in that situation, and you’re young, it’s difficult to avoid temptation. Anything people offered me I would swallow, snort, inject or shove up my arse. This went on for a long time until one night I found myself in my hotel room crippled with paranoia that the G men were after me. In actual fact they were, for a combination of tax, public indecency and drugs reasons, but that’s not the point. I knew this had to stop. I decided I didn’t want the drugs to be talking. It was my turn to talk.
So I had to face up to the truth of myself as a role model to my fans and tell them what they needed to hear from me. Hey, guys, you know all those times I said that drugs were good? well I was wrong: they are bad.
I checked myself into rehab and wrote some songs in there which surprised listeners with their stark honesty. The first single from the album, MDMA-Z, was a list of all the drugs I had taken and all the fun, profound and life-affirming experiences I had had with them and telling my fans they shouldn’t do what I did. It harked back to my earlier songs, the chorus adding ‘Don’t listen to him,’ but by him I meant me. don’t listen to me. listen to me now, obviously, but don’t listen then.
I’d learnt a valuable lesson from rehab. I took up yoga and running, I drank green tea instead of Mama Booze. My career was back on track, and I had rehab to thank for all of this. (After the enormous success of the album gave me more money than I had ever seen before and I went back to hanging out in toilets with bankers I ended up there again, but I was better prepared for it this time).
2. ‘Fix the World’
When you’re starting out in the music business everything is about what you can get out of it – it’s all me, me, me. But you can only maintain this lifestyle for so long. When you’re 25 it’s cool, but when you’re pushing forty it becomes a bit tragic. In my new-found maturity I had ditched the booze and kicked the drugs. I’d even settled down and married myself off to one woman, with only occasional lapses once or twice a year (which I hate doing). And that’s when you start to notice the world around you.
For me this moment came on a plane from LA. We’d been in the air for an hour or so and I was getting a bit shaky, so I read the Wall Street Journal. There was an article in it about a war, pictures of burning villages and sad-eyed refugees, people with haunted eyes that had seen too much and kids whose childhood was put on hold for ever. Or it might have been about the rainforests or something. Anyway, it got me to thinking. There’s some bad shit going down – I remember clearly thinking that.
So my fifth album took a more serious approach. For the first time I addressed the world around me, and found it wanting. This was nowhere more obvious than in the single Song About War, with its emotive chorus: ‘This needs to change/This is wrong.’ The video featured black and white footage of people abroad somewhere being harassed, possibly even fatally, while I mimed those words into the camera solemnly and looking very sincere. It was my biggest hit to date, an impassioned monologue that said everything you needed to know about the futility of war. Turning to the misery around you is an easy way of signalling to fans your more mature mood. And the good thing is there’s always a war going on somewhere, so the song never becomes dated.
3. ‘Kids Today’
When I started out in this business things were much less refined. We would shove all our equipment into the van and drive ourselves to the venue, usually the back room of a pub, hoping we had sufficient leads and everything was in tune. We were usually eight sheets to the wind by the time we got on stage, so we sounded like shite anyway. But it was raw, it was real, it was proper.
Bands these days suffer from having it too easy. They get put out if the dressing room doesn’t have quinoa wraps or decaff soy lattes or whatever it is, not counting themselves lucky they’ve got a toilet you can get your back end around without worrying about catching something nasty. And most of what they do is done online: promotion, interviews, recording even. You can get far into your career without knowing the reality of a hostile, beery crowd who don’t know you from a stain on their trousers, or a roadie who signals his resignation from the tour by crapping in your Marshal stack. (They can get quite hot, and the smell…)
I have never denied that I’m old skool, in every sense of the word. I still write all my lyrics in biro on the back of an envelope, and in case people weren’t aware of this I make a point of mentioning it in every interview. I have a website apparently but I don’t know much about it. My nephew maintains it, and just hearing him talk about it I know I’m way out of my depth. He could be talking about astrophysics for all I understand of it. I never saw much point in the internet until one time when we were touring Japan. All the groupies were safely in bed by half eleven rather than backstage with us, and it was then I found the www to be a great comfort to me in my hotel room.
So I’m definitely not a fan of our culture’s obsession with technology or modernity. My current album has a scathing track about Snapchat, for example, and the video for it features me watching some youths playing with fidget spinners and raising a wry eyebrow. Not like a nonce, or anything. just a cool older guy who’s looking at some teens.
4. ‘I Still Got It’
Just because you’re going grey on top and wrinkly around the ball sac doesn’t mean you no longer relevant. My moral objections to a previous government’s economic policies led to my angriest and most energised music yet. The album Sodding Off to the Caymans, featuring tracks such as Get Your Hands Out (Of My Pockets) and Creative Accunting, was described by one critic as ‘obsessive’ and by another as ‘very obsessive’. Like I said – angry.
And just because you’re a bit thicker around the middle and your eyesight’s going a bit and you splash piss on your knees every time you go to the toilet doesn’t mean you can’t lead the bunch. I won’t be outrocked. As one music blogger said about my album Schtumpfff, ‘you’ll need to buy yourself new pants after giving this a listen – it’s that noisy.’ The three minute bass solo on Song About Stuff, played through three distortion pedals and an old, buzzing amp which nearly electrocuted a techie, is testament to its innovation. Remember, you have more authenticity in your left bum cheek than any postmodern youngster who thinks he knows it all has in his entire skinny body.
So if your career’s in a dip, write these tunes. And if you need to you can always pad it out with songs about shagging and how great rock and roll is. Keep it hip, keep it heavy, keep it happening.