Manchester, England has been the birthplace of many influential bands including Joy Division, The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, and a plethora of other great musical acts. Sonic Boom Six has been working hard for the past eight years to place their name at the forefront of the Manchester music scene, and beyond, with their catchy fusion of ska/punk/dub/hip-hop/etc.
The band recently finished up their first US headlining tour with supporting act Knock-Out, and Dying Scene was able to sit down with the band at the legendary 924 Gilman Street venue in Berkeley. In the interview the band discusses their formation, and evolution over the years, as well as their musical influences and expectations for their first real US tour. Check it out here.
Due to the incredible awesomeness of the interview, we will be breaking it into two parts. Keep checking back for part 2 coming next week, where the band talks about memories from live shows and festivals, side projects, the formation of their own record label, Rebel Alliance Records, and what we can expect in the future from Sonic Boom Six.
The band released their last album City Of Thieves last year on their label, Rebel Alliance Records.
Sonic Boom Six is playing all over the UK this summer, so if you’re heading over the pond, be sure to check out their Dying Scene Shows page.
Glad you guys made it safely stateside, what happened with the flights?
B: Well, it had to do with the volcanic ash. We were actually supposed to get a flight the day before.
L: They had shut down the Scottish airports, the Irish airports – everthing was just like pandemonium. I mean, it’s still going on. There was one volcano behind the one that went off, there was just a lot of fallout.
Do you have any plans on rescheduling the Vegas show?
B: Well, we’re hoping to come back and do another tour in the next couple of months.
L: Because of the way it was planned, starting on the west and we’ll be driving all the way to the east – the only way we’d be able to do it was like if we flew to Vegas on the last day, but we’re fully booked.
Now you guys are scheduled to play 20 shows in 19 days, no offense but are you right in the head?
L: To be honest, it was out of our control. We’ve got an agent, we’ve got a manager, they go like, ‘you’ve got to be here at this time’, and we just do it. They don’t take no for an answer. But, you know if we can play a gig every night, it’s pretty cool. The only thing you worry about is the travel and fatigue.
B: But we’ve got to be efficient, as well as, you can’t really have much time to be out; of course it’d be nice to get out and do some sightseeing.
L: I mean ultimately we’re here to promote the band. So, we’re alright with it, as long as our voices hold up!
How have you enjoyed your first two headlining shows in the US?
L: Oh, they’ve been amazing. I love California. I actually want to move to California, I love it.
You’ve been well-received?
B: Ya, last night was easier because we played with Knock Out, so it was a little bit more consistent in terms of gear. The night before we played with some bands we had never played with before, so we used their gear and that was a little bit more difficult.
L: I mean, they were kind enough to lend us everything, but at the same time you don’t know what to expect from equipment you’re unfamiliar with. But the gigs have been amazing. It was proper like…it was all like Mexican and Hispanic people…that’s SoCal for you…haha, ya, but the vibe was just, like people that didn’t even know who we were were going nuts.
Did you choose to play 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley as opposed to San Francisco or somewhere else in the Bay area?
L: Gilman chose us! Ya, we were just speaking to the promoter, the guy that runs the place, and he was saying our agent books a lot of rockabilly bands that play here, and he found out we were on his roster and said, ‘I’m a really big fan, can we get Sonic Boom Six here?’ Which like, it’s unbelievable that we’re playing here, in this venue – it’s mindblowing.
B: We’ll never play CBGB, this is another one of those monuments I guess.
For those who don’t know you, what’s the story behind Sonic Boom Six?
B: Well, me and Laila have known each other since we were very young, like at school and we have all played in bands together in Manchester, like sort of ska-punk bands type things. I was still writing stuff, we were all still friends, and we decided to do a band that encompassed punk with a lot of the other styles of music that we were in to. Which like, in a way in our other bands we always tried to put all this stuff in there, but it was more like ska-punk with a dub beat. So we were just like, let’s tear it down and start again. Let’s make music that relates to, as well as the kids we see at punk shows, the kids we see at hip-hop shows, and the kids we see that like dance music, the parties, the rave scene, and all that and that was just where we were. Sonic Boom Six was started to sort of accomplish that, and we were trying to be something new, as well as giving a nod back to bands that we like and bands that we saw ourselves in the mold of. Using their riffs or their words in your songs. Yes, right, that was always a big thing. That was always from liking hip-hop and reggae. Using other people’s bits and clips and things like that – that hadn’t been done so much in punk music.
You mix a lot of different musical styles, and bite lines from musicians like Peter Tosh and Mighty Mighty Bosstones, to name a few, what are some of your other influences?
L: Rage Against the Machine…
B: Yea, definitely Rage Against The Machine, I think The Specials and The Clash are two of the most influential, not only in terms of the music, but their outlook, and what they’ve tried to do which is write songs that, at the heart of it, is basically punk music, sort of street music, dance music, with guitars. But then also, they incorporate stuff that’s relevant beyond just the punk scene, so it sort of puts to time and place and has a sort of Zeitgeist to it. And at the same time, we’ve always wanted to be a band that writes good songs, as well, like pop songs. And I don’t think we’re as good of songwriters as The Specials or The Clash, but that was always the idea. Now those two bands…well, like in the UK especially, you get a lot of bands that are kind of like punky-reggae, like dub soundsystems, and they go and play raves and it’s really good and you get into it. And it’s kind of like one of the side projects we do which is called Suicide Bid – it’s that kind of thing. And there are bands like that, and they’re great, but we always wanted to bring more of a just sort of commercial melodic rock/pop edge to it – like a band, rather than kind of a squat-machine. We love the punk scene, but it was never about just being a band within the punk scene. It was always about being a punk band, and whatever else that entails, it can come with it, but it wasn’t just about being in the punk scene.
Do you ever encounter any conflict in the writing process or are you all pretty much on the same page? Who does most of the writing?
L: Yea, I mean, I think we’re all really open-minded so, you know we’ve got a new guitarist James, who’s brought like a totally new sort of sound – not like a new sound, just kind of different. The old guitarist and Barney wrote a lot of stuff together, so now it’s something just a bit more fresh. We’re just sort of open to all of it.
B: Well, the idea was always from the beginning that we all ‘got’ what it was supposed to be about, and what we were coming together for, and tried to do a balance of different tempo and styles, and we always got that. I mean, obviously when you’re sitting in the rehearsal room there’s lots of minor things, but I think in terms of the larger picture of where the band’s going, it’s always been completely discussed before we go in and write songs, so we’re all on the same page.
What’s the reasoning behind constantly ‘repping’ the band in your songs?
B: That’s definitely from our love for hip-hop. So much of our lyrics and so much of that side of things came from – I mean at the beginning we probably overdid it because at that point all we were listening to at all was hip-hop and maybe dancehall. We weren’t really listening to much punk music at all when we started the band, and then…You can kind of hear that in your first EP….Yea exactly, and then eventually we just came back around and played more in our scenes, which was great. I mean the first few EPs are just, every riff is from someone else’s song and the whole thing is just a mash-up, and the kids got it, but it didn’t matter, it took us awhile of writing better songs, where people went, oh ok, they’re more than just a sort of weird idea in the flesh, they actually can write good songs.
Many of your songs begin with a clip of some spoken word, why do you choose to begin your songs this way?
B: I mean, it’s hard, because a lot of bands, I think, do that kind of thing, in a really bad way, but I think intentions have always been to try and do it in a good way. ‘Cuz you’ll get some bands that will just include clips of some comedy program and the guy’s probably really funny in a band and they’re all like 18 and it’s some inside joke, so they put it on the record, and you’re all ‘what’s that mean?’ But we use the samples just to kind of round it out.
L: It kind of beefs it up like, and sometimes the samples speaks more volume or gets the point across better than the whole song. It’s always relevant, and it sort of opens up another dimension, doesn’t it?
Definitely. Actually, one of these spoken word clips is, “why would anyone listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love?”
B: Yea, that was from the infamous Quincy punk rock episode, you know, the old show Quincy M.D.? Umm, that’s old. Well, there’s an episode from like the late 70’s or early 80’s that’s about this weird punk band, and it’s just really ignorant, the punk music is just really weird…all the samples off the first EP are from that Quincy punk episode because I thought it was just hilarious and so many things in it are just really funny. That was just being silly on the album.
Do you see Sonic Boom Six as music that makes you love?
B: Ummm, haha, probably not, no. The whole thing was that…I don’t know I just thought that sounded funny and then it kicked into like a punky sound. I suppose it was something a little ironic.
Do you have any other message you’re trying to convey to your fans through your music?
B: Yea, I mean through the music, through the whole band and everything, it’s always just been about, not, the whole band in our eyes, and what certain people have said about us in the recording process we know we’re not necessarily representing this, it’s always been about, like if we feel a certain way and we see life a certain way, we’re sure that there’s gonna be people who feel the same. We’ve always been a band that’s been about our fans. If you get it and you enjoy it, that’s great, and we want as many fans as we can have, but we’ve never been about chasing the next thing that’s famous. We’ve never been like ‘fuck the media’ or ‘fuck the president’ but it’s like, yea there is that over there, I mean it is somewhat over here if you scrape a little below the surface. I mean, it’s hard to say without sounding cliché, but think for yourself, do something slightly different; everything that we’ve ever represented, in a way, has been a paradox. You know, we always try to do sort of like hip-hop imagery within punk and presenting – even just the political aspects of having a girl singer, who’s Asian, in the UK, that in itself is something that’s different, and it says something. And that’s kind of always been our message. We’re not a political band, but politically the band says something in itself, and the lyrics were always about punk music. And I suppose, ultimately what the message of the band is, is that punk doesn’t necessarily just mean punk rock. Punk means believing in yourself, and doing something that a lot of other people might not agree with and might not think is the way forward, but as long as you know it in your heart, then you work hard and do it yourself, and eventually you’ll be playing on a big stage or touring and playing at Gilman Street, and all these things that in the beginning people would look at you and be like ‘oh you guys will never be able to do that, people at Gilman wouldn’t like you.’
On various tracks you use different instruments to supplement your sound, is there any instrument you would love to bring into your repertoire?
B: Oboes. L: Oboes? Xylophones! N: I’ve always wanted the sitar or something. You know, when I was writing this question I had a feeling someone was going to say that.
N: I was thinking about that the other day actually as I was listening to The Rolling Stones.
B: Well, we’ve used a banjo for like a sort of Indian/Asian sound in some of our earlier stuff. It was all very cut and dry in the beginning that one of the things we were going to do was like Bali punk. I mean it was just really conceited cuz it was basically, ‘Laila’s Asian, let’s do Bali punk’. But none of us were particularly big fans of Bali punk. There were like one or two Bali tunes where we’re like, ‘oh yea, that’s good.’ I mean it would’ve been nice to use the proper Indian guitar, but the banjo worked, kind of like a cultural hijacking.