Live4ever Interview: Cabbage talk survival and releasing new album Amanita Pantherina during lockdown

Cabbage performing @ Live At Leeds (Gary Mather / Live4ever)

Cabbage performing @ Live At Leeds (Gary Mather / Live4ever)

The big splash that changed all our lives in the spring is still causing ripples.

As has been thoroughly discussed and debated, gigs are off the agenda so musicians have had to be more creative in their thinking, be it live streams in lieu of concerts or just as promotion for a new album. Which is all well and good for those that can, but what about the artists that were in a precarious position beforehand?

Post-punks (for want of a better moniker) Cabbage were unfortunate enough to be on the back-foot anyway, having changed labels since the release of their debut album Nihilistic Glamour Shots. Its follow-up Amanita Pantherina has been gathering dust on the shelf for the best part of a year; “We finished it last year, towards the end,” co-frontman Joe Martin tells Live4ever. “October, November it was finished and then it was supposed to come out in May. Obviously, it couldn’t come out so that was a pain in the arse, but hey-ho.”

Did the enforced break perhaps allow time to make adjustments? Unfortunately not. “We had more time to work on artwork, but the bulk of the music had already been done and mastered. We’ve always released music constantly, so this is the longest it’s been without releasing any, which is just bizarre for us.” Speaking of bizarre, what of the unusual album title? “It’s a poisonous mushroom. We were mulling around for ages, and someone came up with that! As an analogy, it’s big and colourful but on the inside it’s quite venomous and poisonous.”

One senses the limbo period we’ve all been living has been the biggest frustration for this prolific band. Operating for five years, the five-piece have released several singles and EPs as well as the debut album, and are now in the position of having a formidable catalogue.

Amanita Pantherina is as raucous and wonderfully ramshackle as what came before, but with added flourishes. While overall lighter in tone and mood than Nihilistic Glamour Shots, certain songs stand out for their swampy, panel-beating sound, especially on I Was A Teenage Insect. Martin insists this wasn’t a conscious effort:

“I think that’s just a natural progression. We’ve always been pretty heavy. We’ve just progressed and become more comfortable. (Insect) has got some complex parts in it, especially from Eoghan. Being a drummer, he’s quite rhythmical. The rhythm of that tune is quite complex in parts. I f**k it up most times! Because he’s a drummer, when he writes riffs it’s quite technical. We got a new bass player after the last tour we did, so he’s been really instrumental in writing music. He’s brought a lot of new musical influences to it. He’s written quite a few songs on the album.”

Otherwise, the album is more joyous and (even more) righteous than the debut, and with hindsight Martin is easily able to explain why: “The last album was very dark. It was a product of the time, considering what the band went through. There’s no point shying away from it: being accused of sexual assault at a gig. We were on such an upwards trajectory and it all went down the tubes, really. When we came to make that last record, we’d been through a lot of s**t, for want of a better phrase. We were angered at the world really, so it’s quite a dark, moody album. But you get over things and you have to deal with the slice of life you’ve been given. We definitely wanted to bring more colour. I’ve always wanted to bring more colour; the melodies I’ve written have always had choruses, hooks and melodies. Personally, I get sick of wallowing so it’s nice to inject some colour.”

Changes were also brought about on the technicalities of making the music, with the band opting to produce the album for themselves for the first time. This self-imposed challenge took some adjustment, but was ultimately fulfilling for Martin: “It’s just a totally different kettle of fish, because every time you listen to it you think you can do something differently. On the plus side, you can listen back and keep fiddling with it until you’re happy. I don’t really like to work like that though. I’m not too comfortable listening to my own music all the time!”

Lyrically, Cabbage still cut to the core of the faults in British society. Recent single Medicine, with its obvious pharmaceutically-oriented connotations, continues their track record of prescience, despite being a year old. “Cabbage have always been psychic in terms of writing songs that then become topical, so maybe it follows suit,” Martin muses in our conversation. “Gibraltar Ape was the first one which soon became topical, and obviously Terrorist Synthesizer. That was written when people were calling Jeremy Corbyn a terrorist sympathiser so that was about that. Then the result of the (2017) election, Theresa May had to form that coalition with the DUP. Our EP cover went viral on Twitter, as it was a picture with her with an identikit uniform clutching a synthesizer. There’s so many examples! Necroflat In the Palace and then Prince Andrew! That was written about Jimmy Saville’s relationship with the Royal Family. It’s happened on numerous occasions.”

While there’s a palpable sense of relief in Martin’s tone in finally being able to relinquish the album to the public, the singer is also hesitant to look too far into the future. Ironically, the outlet they provide for unleashing frustrations has never been more necessary, yet the lockdown has taken its toll and will continue to do so. “It’s a very strange time,” he tells Live4ever. “I don’t live in Mossley, in fact I don’t even live in Manchester anymore, and we all have to work. We all have jobs. When we signed with BMG for stupid amounts of money we didn’t have to work for a couple of years. Now we all have jobs and get more money from that than practicing once a week. It’s a fu***ing nightmare. That’s partly my doing because I don’t live there anymore. I’m a carer and I work in a chip shop and I can only get down once a week. It will take a while to get these songs ready.”

“Obviously we couldn’t rehearse for quite a while. We finished the album and then Christmas came. Normally we rehearse all the time. We started practicing again after the album was done and got the tunes to a good level, then couldn’t rehearse in March, April or May. We’ve been practicing again for a couple of months.” In the hope of being able to tour again soon? “I think we’re looking at about 20 dates or something. We’d like to do the whole country. I don’t know how many Cabbage tours I’ve got left in me, but I’ve certainly got one! You can never plan too far ahead. We never used to plan more than two weeks ahead. It’s a very different time.”

Martin is acutely aware that socially distanced Cabbage gigs will be an entirely different (and not particularly welcome) prospect, with smaller venues being most suited to their style. The band feed off the crowd’s energy and channel it to propel an already ferocious live prospect. “I don’t think I want to do a socially distanced Cabbage gig,” he says. “It just wouldn’t work, it’s not what we do. In another life, we’d follow Father John Misty doing nice tunes in a big arena, but that’s not why we started this band. I don’t think it would communicate too well for us. We have done gigs in Norwich where people are two metres apart because we haven’t sold many tickets. It’s not the best experience, so I don’t think we want to relive gigs like that! People associate that with a bad gig. If that’s the future it will be strange.”

Strange is the word, and let’s hope that a solution is found in the coming months. COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball for the music industry, with bands like Cabbage on the precipice.

Yet the problems that were ravaging the world in 2019 are still with us, and we need the outlet of observational art to save us from ourselves.

Richard Bowes

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