Angry Itch is a three piece punk trio hailing from Birmingham. Consisting of John Hoey on guitar and vocals, Richard Ellis on bass and vocals and Luke Deakin on drums and shouting, they are part of a vibrant Midlands punk scene. They have just released their third EP, “Prickstarter” on Christmas Day which is available on iTunes Amazon, Google Play and Spotify. I sat down with guitarist and vocalist John Hoey to talk about the band, the scene and stage fright at Rebellion.
Erin: So I was out for a run last week and put on your new album and holy shit! It is great for a fast run because the tempo is insane! I love it!
John: Thank you. It’s something we are really, really proud of. It’s something we put a lot of effort into.
Erin: The album came out when?
John: Christmas Day and it’s a 4 track EP with a load of bits we have had over the last twelve months. So we thought we would put some new material out.
Erin: You guys have played Rebellion three times in about five years. Are you not playing this year?
John: I have a little boy and my wife is having a baby the middle of May. I think in an active band, you’ve got to be gigging quite a bit to get on for a show like Rebellion because there is so much competition and we as a band understand that. We aren’t going to be gigging alot this year to be in the mix for it this year. It will come up again, hopefully. We played the main stage one year and that was something I will never forget! Nerves kicked in just before and it was brilliant! I loved every minute of it.
Erin: You look out into the crowd and it’s just WOW. All these people here to see ME!
John: Normally you just have a sound guy out in front and we had a guy to the left and the right saying do this and do that and we had Ross from GBH helping us load our gear on and off which was really surreal anyway! It’s just a great festival and I love it.
Erin: Nothing wrong with taking a break every now and then, that’s for sure!
John: I think you have to really. We haven’t got many gigs this year, but we’ve got time to do a lot of writing. We’ve already started working on our next album and some of the stuff we’ve got is REALLY good and we are really enjoying it. We are going to spend a good 6 or 7 months writing and then recording towards the end of the year to get something out for 2019.
Erin: When you have the downtime, not necessarily downtime from “life”, but when you’ve got downtime and you’ve got the creative juices flowing, sometimes it’s just better to take a time out from the scene and focus on cultivating and making a really good album.
John: Birmingham has got a really fantastic punk scene and a fucking metal scene that is amazing, so we have been really fortunate to experience some great bands that have come out. Gig wise in Birmingham, there’s loads of stuff going on. The nice thing is the people that are organising it, the different promoters are talking to each other and there’s a kind of respect amongst all. So it’s really very vibrant, the whole scene in Birmingham right now and really cool to be a part of.
Erin: Something I noticed last time I in Birmingham about a year ago, the amount of venues whether small or a bit larger, there is a TON of them!
John: Yeah there is! There are a couple that are shutting down which isn’t great, but I think you get that everywhere. But when one shuts down, new ones pop up. There’s a place in
Nottingham called Rock City where a lot of bands have played and they are opening up one here in Birmingham next year which will be really good and hopefully they’ll be able to get some decent bands in there as well.
Erin: I’m super jealous. There seems to be burgeoning or thriving scenes in every part of the world except where I live in France, which is very against live music venues for some reason and coming from Los Angeles where you could see 5 different bands in 5 different venues in 1 night, I have been going through bad show withdrawal!
John: We are fortunate. I don’t get out to as many gigs as I want to.
Erin: You’ve got a little one and a baby on the way!
John: And the great thing is everyone understands that. Our drummer and bass player go out, they were at a gig last night at a place called Asylum and our mates Suckerpunch played with some other bands and they enjoyed it.
Erin: What fuelled and inspired you to create Angry Itch?
John: As a kid, I was always a massive fan of Noel Gallagher, a HUGE Oasis fan when I was younger. I didn’t get into the American bands like Green Day or the Offspring until I was about 13/14. Our bass player was similar, we grew up together and we started a band years ago and we didn’t really do much as we were just kids and didn’t understand what we were supposed to do! This was before MySpace and stuff like that, then we kind of lost touch then met up again and he said, “Do you fancy having a jam?” and I went, “yeah go on then!” Before we knew it, we were speaking with Tommy from the Drongos (Drongos for Europe,) asking if he knew of any promoters and he gave me a list of a few and we hit the road from there. Then it snowballed into an EP, then an album, then a second EP and Rebellion and then our own festival (ItchFest) you just kind of get carried away.
Erin: So it started off as one thing, let’s just jam and see how it goes and then a couple of years pass and it’s like, OK, this is a band, this is how it works, right?
John: You kind of think OK, what happens if we go out of town? So we went down to Portsmouth and then into London and all over and we are playing Germany later this year so that will be fun, love it!
Erin: How did your band name come about? This I’m DYING to know!
John: There’s a band called Type O Negative, I believe they have a song called “Angry Inch” and it’s kind of derided from that but we just changed it from Inch to Itch. We went through a couple of guises but nothing major. Our bass player came up with that and it just stuck and kind of worked!
Erin: Well, your bass player was onto something because it’s a name you remember which is good!
John: It must be a bit weird waving it on a t-shirt, especially for the ladies!
Erin: Well, it’s better than Anti-Itch! Anti-Itch makes me think of STD’s!
John: The main thing with our name is that it’s memorable hopefully!
Erin: Who influences you?
John: Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up listening to a lot of Oasis. Before the internet, I used to love reading the back of CD’s and think read who some silly director was or who’s this band NOFX? So you’d check out a band based on that and it would lead you to another band and then who were the bands that influenced them which would lead you onto the Ramones and the Clash, U.K. Subs, bands like that. I quite like my metal, I enjoy that as well. Our drummer listens to loads of stuff. He got me into this band called The Subways who are from the U.K. that are really good.
Erin: It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. I used to ride my bike to this record store called Andy CashBionic Records and I was always buying compilations that had U.K. punk bands on them and think OK, who is this and I would progress from one band up to the next and like you, would hear one band talk about someone and would search for that band and so forth.
John: I think it’s easy now. You hear a band and you can download a song and that’s it. I remember going to the Virgin Megastore and picking up “And Out Come the Wolves…” (Rancid’s third album,) and it was an import as well, it was like £20 or £30 and I was like oh my god look at this! And doing it that way. It’s kind of easy now you can skip all that and it’s really good for bands as well.
Erin: I think that treasure hunt mentality is kind of gone. I was a big maker of mix tapes when I was a kid, recording stuff of CD’s, other tapes, songs I’d think my friends would be into and pass it on to them then they would pass something back to me on another tape-that’s how I found out about Stiff Little Fingers. Or to be able to go into the record store and see something like “And Out Come the Wolves…” because it had such a great cover and you could buy it based on how interesting it looked, made you want to know what it was all about. I don’t think that same draw and impact is there anymore. I mean, what can you see of an album on your phone screen on Spotify or iTunes?
John: I’m a graphic designer and for me, looking at how the lyrics were laid out and I quite like it when they’re handwritten, stuff like that because it adds a bit of personality to it that you don’t really get so much anymore.
Erin: For me it’s just kind of lost that allure and that magic where you HAVE to search for it, when you have that desire in you that you need to hear a song or find a bands album, now it’s so easy to just go on your phone and in 3 seconds, there it is, whatever you were searching for. I enjoy that but, I miss that deep down, hole-in-your-heart- I’m-gonna-die- if-I-don’t-hear-that-song-or-band, search or hunt I guess you would call it.
John: That’s the good thing about going to gigs, because you can stand there and go, wow, I’ve never heard this and before you know it you get into the band. There’s a band called Wonk Unit, when I first saw them, I was like oh my god, that’s amazing! I heard their track called “Los Angeles” and it’s just brilliant. My partner loves it as well, now she’s a big fan, but at a gig you can get all the merch there, maybe meet and talk to the band. Like at Rebellion, you are exposed to so many bands, the next thing you know you’ve spent hundreds of pounds on t-shirts and CD’s!
Erin: Speaking of exposure, how do you feel about streaming music, like Spotify, which you guys are on, or iTunes and musicians making money, if any off of it and how it’s affected the industry?
John: I think it’s great that you can get your music out there, which makes it a lot easier for people to hear you. And hopefully, from there they will come to a gig. Obviously it’s not ideal from a financial perspective, but if you’re in music to make money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. When we play gigs now, we ask to cover fuel and maybe a bit more so we can get some food on the way and maybe some beers. But we aren’t in it for the money.
Erin: If you’re in it for the money, it’s time to change careers! So you look at streaming as more of a promotional tool, they hear the music, get excited by it and then seek the band out. I’ve noticed Spotify now posts when an artist is playing their next show close to where the listener lives which I think is pretty cool.
John: I was looking into that last week, trying to get the gig lists working, but someone’s nicked our name on Soundcloud Songkick to put the listing up, so I’ve got to figure that out some way! With the EP, we were wondering if we should put it out on CD or digitally, so we worked out how many gigs we were probably going to be doing and with me not being able to gig as much and weighed the cost of it and came to the decision to put it out digitally and see how we do and by the next album we will have it on CD and maybe vinyl.
Erin: I’ve heard in the UK it’s expensive to press vinyl and there aren’t a lot of vinyl pressing plants, so it’s not always cost effective.
John: I think the more established bands get into vinyl pressing because they’re able to ship them as well. It’s nice to see vinyl making a comeback. I don’t have a record player but my thing was always CD’s.
Erin: Tapes! I can’t believe so many bands are putting out their albums on tapes! It’s really made a comeback in the States and I’ve noticed it here in Europe and the U.K.
John: I’ve seen that. A couple of bands I know released their EP on cassette. I’m not really sure how big it’s got over here as I haven’t seen much of it. I think vinyl is just more popular and from what I’ve been told, everything sounds better on vinyl anyway!
Erin: So why did you choose to play guitar?
John: I wanted to be Noel Gallagher! I probably tortured my mum and dad’s ears for years. They bought me this green electric guitar and a little amp as well and that’s when things started snowballing. That same Christmas, my friend Rick, our bass player, he got a little amp as well and a bass and we got together and started playing, badly…
Erin: You have to learn!
John: Yeah and we’ve just done that for years and I don’t think we’ve improved much in 20 years! The guitars have gotten more expensive and we probably just sound worse!
Erin: Did any of you have any sort of formal training or are you totally self-taught?
John: No, all self-taught. We had Ultimate Guitar on the web and things like that. We use to work with OLGA (On-Line Guitar Archive) which was like the original guitar tabs, so we’d sit down with stuff from there. No real formal training, I used to get really frustrated with it, I had a guitar teacher who tried to teach me like hand picking and I just wanted bash the thing and make noise! I wanted to be able to play along to my favourite songs! So that’s what I did. Gradually, we got a bit better and better.
Erin: Oh I am sure you play better now than you did at 14-15 years old!
John: It’s been about 20 odd years!
Erin: What do you play now, model wise?
John: I’ve got a Gordon Smith GS1. I only got it the other week so I’ve only played it once! Hoping to practice a bit more this week. It’s really nice, I love it.
Erin: What about pedals?
John: I just use a BOSS Overdrive which just adds a slight crunch on my guitar. You can hear it on the new EP, it’s a bit of a crunch and a heavy kind of overdrive, it gives it a bit of oomph. Especially being a 3-piece you have to get the balance right, because normally you’ve got 2 guitars which give it a kind of dynamic. I’ve got a little Juno Tuner pedal as well. But I don’t really use anything else.
Erin: Well it seems to work pretty well for you! Because the album sounds great!
John: I want it sound like how we play live.
Erin: You want to hear that energy and momentum.
John: It adds a bit of rawness to it, which I think you should always have, just a bit of balls really.
Erin: Any funny stories or things you practice in relation to being in the band that you want to share since you’ve been playing together?
John: The last time we played Rebellion, we played on a Sunday and we’d been there since Thursday, I’d had a couple of drinks obviously and I remember right before going on stage, because this was like the biggest thing ever for us, we were stood there on the side and we were chatting away and I was nervous anyway and I thought well the other guys are OK, it’s not a problem and the next thing Rick runs off to go throw up and then Luke looks at me and goes totally pale and I’m stuck there going OH NO.
Erin: So you’re stuck there thinking, oh no it’s all on me!
John: Always try and watch all the bands. You don’t have to leave early. I’m not a fan of bands that show up, play and disappear without checking out the other bands. I have a young family so sometimes I have to go sooner than I want to which sucks but something I have to do.
Erin: I agree with you. You might miss something really amazing. (Not sure this makes sense?)
John: Enjoy yourself and don’t come across as egotistical. The other thing is, my mate Jay reminded me the first year we played Rebellion, I was running around like a bit of a fan boy backstage and he said “remember everyone here has got to pay a mortgage, so don’t put anyone on a pedestal. Treat everyone equally and just be respectful.
Erin: It can be hard at times not to fanboy or fangirl geek out when you see or are around artists you respect and admire.
So, you’ve got the new EP “Prickstarter” out-are you planning on doing any videos for the songs?
John: Possibly. We haven’t really sat down and talked about it. We did a video for our last album. We may do something later this year when we get to Germany, of live videos or stuff compiled over the year. If we do something it would be along those lines.
Erin: What inspires you? Do you write most of the songs?
John: We write them all together, actually. What normally happens is someone brings in a melody or a guitar line then we literally throw it all into a pot and say, “let’s work on this” because I’ve done it before where I’ve written a song and I’ve really liked it and the other guys haven’t , or it hasn’t worked out how I’ve heard it in my head. Plus it’s easier to work together. With the newer stuff, it might be a case of we all get together and start off with nothing and then little by little we come up with a riff and before you know it we’ve got a complete song within 15-20 minutes. With the newer stuff we feel more confident in how we want to come across. The earlier stuff which is kind of throwaway, we just wanted to put it out, whereas now we think about it.
Erin: So where does the band get its inspiration for its lyrics? Is it what you’re dealing with day to day; is there anger about the state of the world?
John: It can be everyday things. There’s personal experiences, we’ve got a song called “The Bristow Disco”, which is about a famous Darts player called ‘Eric Bristow’???? basically telling us to fuck off. We walked past and I said, “Hi Eric”, and he said “ahhh piss off” or something to that effect. So I pass the guys and go, “he just told me to piss off!” Then our drummer came in and went, “I’ve got this line!” And we chorded the chorus for it, put that story in with it and it just worked. We write about what we feel comfortable with.
Erin: What’s everyone’s favourite song to play live?
John: I’d probably say off the CD “The Bristow Disco” because everyone gets involved and of the newer stuff a track called “Milo”. We’ve got an agreement where if someone doesn’t like the songs we’re playing during the set, then we just take it out and put something else in. We’ve kind of got a flow in the set now because people obviously pay to come and watch us so we try to put on a bit of show for them and it’s been going OK so far.
Erin: How do you feel you’ve progressed since your last album doing the “Prickstarter” EP?
John: More confidence with what we know within ourselves because at first it was a very daunting experience going to record. You play songs at gigs all the time then you go into a recording studio and there’s a producer there saying try this and try that and when we were recording the album (Champanzee) there was a sort of learning curve versus the EP (Prickstarter) where we know how we sound, we know what we want to get out of it and we knew what we wanted to try individually and collectively which was pretty cool.
I always try to remember what Fat Mike from NOFX said, “everyone can play a bum note, just make sure you’re in tune!”