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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Punish The Atom

1 August 05 interview: Sadie Rees Hales
photos: Dom Henry

"We were number two in the charts on a Ukraine radio station. We were between Oasis and The Bravery. That felt very surreal..."

They’ve supported Death From Above 1979, been bigged up by the NME, played the South by Southwest festival, been on proper radio, and have left music journos with deep gashes as they scratch their head and try to pin a label on ‘em. Punish The Atom – Joey Bell, Pete Dale, John Cox, Jonny Legender and Cristy Fownston – are currently working on their second LP, which was reason enough to, er, shoot some questions Atom…

What inspired you to start a band?
Joey: We saw the Wolves of Greece do a gig at the Boat Club a few years ago. We just looked at each other and knew we had to do it. But our first gig (at the Social) was shit.
John: I was working there at the time and didn't know what to think.
Joey: We'd just bash about on un-tuned guitars. We started off playing anywhere, gradually gaining more confidence.

You've got a sizeable fan base here, but what reaction do you get outside of Notts?
Joey: We get a good reaction in Birmingham, as some of our Nottingham fans
have travelled up there to see the gigs. We do quite well in Camden. It's hard to tour the country though because we don't have lots of money. We could have toured with Radio 4 and Ikara Colt in Europe but it fell through at the last minute.

What's it like having Anton Lockwood as a manager? It's obviously helped a
lot in terms of getting gigs with high profile bands…
John: Yeah, this is something that we are a bit paranoid about. We got a good billing at the Dot To Dot festival, so maybe other bands think "Oh yeah, they would get that."
Joey: We know we/re very lucky to have him as a manager as he's so well-connected, but he's been our mate for years. We asked him to be our manager and he said yes. We really like him as a manager as well as a friend.

You've had some airplay on national radio. How does it feel hearing yourselves?
Christy: We've actually always missed our songs on the radio! We've meant to listen out for them but it's just not happened.

Who would you like to support?
Joey: Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. They're like Indie boys who play heavy music. We're actually doing a gig with them the day before Anthony's wedding. We would also like to gig with The Blood Brothers, and The Apes.

Joey, we’ve clocked you DJ'ing at The Social. What do you enjoy more?
Joey: Well, you certainly get better money if you're a DJ. Being in Punish The Atom is what I enjoy though, doing our own songs - not playing someone else's.
Christy, I read somewhere that you used to play the viola. True?
Christy: I did, until we realised that you couldn't hear it over the rest of the music. We were just fucking about, trying to make music and realised that it didn't work. So I took up the guitar instead.

In the music press you get described as punk-funk, agit-punk and even sonic
Joey: We've got a kind of accidental sound. On our first mini album, we'd been influenced by lots of gigs we'd been to.
Jonny: We saw the Ex-Models play in Nottingham and then went back to the rehearsal rooms and wrote a song. When we played it back, we could hear a number of different influences of other bands, but without sounding like a
carbon copy of them.

Your drummer left you to join Amusement Parks On Fire. Any beef between the bands?
Joey: There is rivalry between us. However it's with the name, not the people. We still really like Pete as a friend, but we didn't want him to leave.
Christy: I love Pete, but I definitely feel rivalry.
John: We're lucky to have Anthony though, as he's got a lot of experience…
Anthony: I've worked with Julian Cope, and done lots of session work. They're lucky to have my talents. Yes, I'm very modest…
Joey: We were so close to calling it a day after Pete left. We didn't know if we could continue after that, but then we played at South By South West in Texas and that, as well as Anthony joining, gave us a real kick up the arse.

How did you get involved with SXSW?
Joey: We just sent the judging panel our CD and they contacted us. They liked our music, so we got added to the bill.
Jonny: SXSW was amazing. Playing there made us feel like what we could be. We felt like rock stars. Our hotel room was next to Goldie Looking Chain…
Joey: It was funny to seem the all dressed up in their tracksuits on stage,
but in real life they just wear tee-shirts and jeans.

As for Notts, who are you rating at the moment?
Joey: For a while the music scene dipped off in Nottingham, it seemed to go quiet
for a while. But underneath that, loads of bands were working hard and putting their stuff together. Then they all seemed to come out at once, and now we have great bands like The Hellset Orchestra – who put on an incredible show- The Wolves of Greece, and You Slut.
Anthony: I run the Mouse House studios in Sneinton and get to see lots of local bands working away there.
Jonny: There are loads of good acts in Nottingham considering it isn't the biggest city.

How did you get signed?
Joey: We invited the label (Gentle Electric) down to one of our gigs and it just went from there.
Christy: We left Gentle Electric as we only had a one album contract with them. They had just only started out as a label and didn't have much money or experience. We need the right promotion, tours and money. Without the cash, sadly, the first two can't happen. Gentle Electric wanted to keep us on the label but we don't want any constraints on making music.

Hasn't appearing in the NME increased your fanbase?
John: You'd be surprised - it doesn't really makes a difference in terms of the amount of people turning up to gigs. After all of that we haven't gained loads of new fans. Again, it's down to money and promotion.

What do feel about people downloading your music off the internet?
Anthony: We've got no problem with it. You have to make the initial sacrifice to make your music available to download for bootleggers. But more people get to hear your stuff that way. In fact, I've got fucking millions of bootlegs at home, hundreds of tapes and CD's. As we can't afford lots of promotion, word-of-mouth advertising is good for our band. So if someone downloads our music and likes it, they'd probably pass it on to someone else. We're a small band so can't be so controlling over things like that. We’re not Led Zeppelin, yet.
Jonny: But we were number two in the charts on a Ukraine radio station. We were between Oasis and The Bravery. That felt very surreal.
Your name sounds like a sadomasochistic physics experiment, but where did
the name really come from?
Joey: It came from a line in The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty.
Anthony: Playing music is like S&M though.
Jonny: We should be wearing rubber!

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