London based Ska Punk band Filthy Militia are starting to develop a following having been playing a little over a year. They draw heavily on the contemporary Ska Punk scene, which is flourishing in and around London and further afield but also nod towards two tone influences and early Jamaican Ska from the 1950s and 60s. They released a four track EP Innocent Until Proven Filthy earlier this year and are an exciting live act, as I discovered when catching one of their sets a few months back. I went and met their frontman and guitarist Frosty at the Royal Albert near Deptford to talk about the band and music more generally. Over the course of a long discussion we covered thwarted one man EDL protests, band name generators and America, (the band rather than the country). I also found out his first pets were two goldfish named Alan and Shearer, so the important stuff was definitely covered. You can read Frosty’s insights below:
How did the name of your band come about?
It’s not a particularly rock n roll story I was with Luke our trumpet player who happened to be out with some workmates near Chancery lane and one of his colleagues came up to us with a band name generator app. It started ramming random words together like purple umbrella sunshine and things like that, then it came up with The Filthy Militia and we thought hang on, remove the ‘the’ and we’re away. It gets different reactions from different people, gets laughs from some, but others like it.
How did you guys get together as a band?
Well it started when I was working in a kitchen when I first moved to London, I find a lot of my ideas come into my head when I’m doing something really mundane. Initially I wanted to start a rock band with a horn section so we could do lots of different things, hard rock stuff, Tom Waits influenced stuff and the like. Then I went to Boomtown near Winchester which is probably my favourite festival in the UK. I went to the Chinatown stage and watched a load of Ska bands and seeing how much the audience were engaging and having fun. I thought yeah I want to get this kind of reaction from people. It was actually at Boomtown that I met Luke for the first time. I run an open mic night up in Angel and he came to one after work and a mutual friend told me he played trumpet, so I approached him and said do you want to form this band and he was up for the idea. Johnny our drummer was an old friend from university. Hannah and Justin we found by putting ads out.
You guys have been together just over a year now?
We did our first gig December 6th 2016 at the Dublin Castle at the Redrock Jam, though we’d been practicing for a few months prior. We’d been juggling members, it was hard to pin down a full time bassist initially until we found Justin.
You’ve said how Boomtown encouraged you to pursue playing Ska but were there other influences that led you in that direction?
I first properly got into Ska Punk in my 3rd year of Uni and my housemate Samba, who I met in Freshers week when we dueted Paranoid as a Karaoke number, lent me a copy of Lets Face It by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It all stemmed from there really. I’ve always had an interest in reggae and punk but only discovered lots of big Ska Punk bands a bit later. Most of my influences are older bands, The Clash, Ramones, The Specials, Bad Manners, those types of bands. My interest in Reggae and Ska goes even further back, I listened to a lot of the Trojan presents box sets, which led me to Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff. I also like dub, with artists such as King Tubby and Augustus Pablo being particular favourites. As a band we have a myriad of influences, Johnny has the most similar taste to me, he’s a big pop punk fan and really keen on Ryan Adams. Hannah is also in a soul and motown covers band and likes everything from McBusted to Sean Paul. Justin came from a Rock and Pop based background. Luke has been working in Berlin going to techno nights and squat raves and that sort of thing. As a band we have a mix, but everybody brings a different slant which is good as it means our output is a little more varied.
What’s your personal history of playing in bands, what did you do before Filthy Militia?
It’s been a mix, when I was still in secondary school I was in a band called Khyber Pass, we had one gig at the Purple Turtle, half the band were too young to be in the venue but there were no questions asked that night. I guess we were a psychedelic rock band but we had an eclectic mix of covers including Green Onions, Come Together, Like a Hurricane by Neil Young, who is a big influence of mine and we finished with Silver Machine. We actually ended up headlining as we were the only local band playing. I also had a solo acoustic folk project for a while and I recorded a solo album called Highways beneath blue skies above, which I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to for about six years. My singing n that was pretty bad. When I got to Uni I realised the solo thing wasn’t really for me as it was a bit limited. In Uni I was in a hard rock band called Mindless Worker, we did alright for a couple of years, recorded a song as part of a university project. We were on the cusp of recording an EP but then everyone graduated and dispersed across the country.
In terms of the construction of the songs for Filthy Militia, how does it work, do people have codified roles?
I can’t sit down and consciously write a song. If I get a moment of inspiration the song is done in about 15-20 minutes with basic chord structure. Then I’ll take it to the band, who all have their own influence on the sound. Present Luke with a song and he’ll have a hornline in about fifteen minutes and Hannah is a whiz at harmonising so they work together really well. Johnny is great for bouncing ideas around, for example the closing song on the EP Little Sister has a surf feel and that all stemmed from his input. He has an interesting take as he’s also a guitarist. He doesn’t overcomplicate things which works for the band and for the type of music we do, you know we’re not Dream Theater. He is also the primary backing vocalist so has input on that as well. Justin plays electric bass as well as double bass which adds another dynamic, plus he’s got a real knack for theory, something that often goes further over my head than I’d care to admit. We call ourselves Ska Gypsy Punk and it’s basically an excuse to play our last song Land of the Dead which draws on the influence of Gogol Bordello. Though I conceived of our song Storm warning as a gypsy punk song initially it’s not always picked up on.
No plans for an accordionist as yet?
Not sure that there are many about, but you never know.
Since you’ve started how have you found the process of getting a name for yourself and booking gigs?
It’s not actually been as tough as I thought it would be, the Ska Punk scene in London is pretty strong. I was amazed when we started out at how many gigs we got offered on the strength of good faith alone. We played throughout 2017 getting a good dozen or so gigs in spite of having no recorded material until earlier this year. I also struck up a good relationship with Paul Smith who manages events in The New Cross Inn which is like the mecca for the genre in London. We recently played a gig at Hunton Bridge and that was because one of the guys who was booking the bands had come to our EP launch to see a band named Codename Colin and booked us on the strength of that. We’ve also had to turn down a number of gigs and we do get offers which is good. We’ve put on a couple of our own and played places like The Gunners as well. We’re looking to get a bit further afield at the moment. We’ve got a few good gigs lined up, one of the biggest being Level Up fest at the New Cross Inn. Our big aim is to get on the lineup for Boomtown 2019.
With the lyrics is it primarily you that does the writing?
I’m the primary lyricist is at the moment I normally bung them out pretty quickly. I have a quite a few songs which need maybe an extra verse or two, or possibly a chorus but I’m not good at sitting down and forcing myself to write though, as I’m not happy with the results if I try to do it in that way.
From the way you’ve described the lyric writing process there is an air of spontaneity to your composition, what do you look to for subject matter?
It could be literally anything, what I find is that most of the songs I write have a certain catalyst. Little Sister was an attempt at re-creating a classic Ska sound, relatively basic lyrics but catchy and danceable but it focused on the topic of having an argument with your girlfriend and how it can take some time to work through that. My approach is that I don’t want to be overly preachy, I like to keep things a little bit vague and allow people to make their own assumptions. A good example is Be Real, which is probably the first reggae song I ever wrote. I was reading an article about this EDL member who decided to have a one man protest outside mosque somewhere in the midlands. It wasn’t even at a time when there were prayers or anybody in attendance apart from a couple of cleaners. Contrary to what the EDL would have you believe they responded in the most British way possible by inviting him in for a cup of tea, they had a chat and long story short he’s no longer a member of the EDL.
So it was through dialogue that he changed his mind, do you think that this idea informs your writing, so that you prefer to write observational lyrics rather than approach it didactically?
I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m pretty leftwing in my views, I think that’s pretty common in Ska Punk, it seems to be the way of things. I do definitely feel that there are times when people would rather be right than do right, meaning they want their views to be acknowledged as right rather than meeting in the middle and exchanging ideas. If we can initiate some dialogue then I’m happy, obviously I’m not talking about facilitating Nazi views or anything like that, they can fuck off. However I do have very good friends who are more inclined to Tory views and some of them sometimes come to gigs, and if that was pointed out at a show it would cause problems for them as a lot of people would be opposed to that. I think for me a gig isn’t the right forum for that, they should bring people together. Also I think with there being so many ways to communicate with great ease in a way it makes us more distant, the tiniest thing can cause huge divisions and fractions.
There can often be confirmation bias in our means of expressing ourselves.
Yes the internet has ruined politics for everyone, too often things are thrown around with no factual basis given. What the internet has done is that it amplifies more extreme opinions and you’ll find people being given TV coverage or air time for being provocative or offensive in what they say.
What role do you think music has, if any in altering or addressing this set of circumstances?
I can’t say this for everyone but I don’t think I’d ever say with our music we’d ever want to alter anyone’s opinions. I feel it’s pretty much this is what we’re saying take it or leave it, I don’t want to change your opinion, if you’re on board great, if not then that’s how it goes. That said I think music events, when you’re in a packed gig and everyone’s concentrating on what’s happening on stage you haven’t got time argue over the nitty gritty little details. For that moment, for those few hours all those people are together and having fun, so in that way music can bring people together. Music can be a mediator and also present messages in a fashion which is more accessible to a wider range of people as well. I’d be wary of going on a political tirade in between songs. For example Billy Bragg who I love can be a little preachy in between songs and while there’s nothing wrong with that it’s not what I aim for in my music really.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say that given our political situation why aren’t there more political musicians, where are our decent protest bands or what have you, do you think that’s fair?
Well we are in a time when it’s easier to make and release music than it ever has been. It’s much easier to get stuff out recorded and out there. There definitely are protest bands around, but at the moment they’re probably less likely to make it into the mainstream than previously perhaps. Also we probably look back at famous protest acts with the benefit of hindsight. Something like the two tone movement and the message behind that were massive but really only made a big impact in the early 1980s but now we can assess the continued influence of an act more readily. Obviously people like Bob Dylan were massive but if you look at the biggest artists of the time they’re not necessarily who you’d expect and certain acts are looked back on more favourably with time. For example Warner Brothers biggest selling act of the 1970s was America, even though people generally only remember Horse with no Name. We have a tendency to remember bands like The Ramones, who have huge cultural impact and toured all over the world. However I recently read Poison Heart, Dee Dee Ramone’s autobiography and they largely remained broke. There are plenty of bands out there that do write protest material and I do go to see them but maybe it takes a little while to find them.
It does seem that people are still politically engaged and this does come across in lots of lyrics, I personally find that lyrics are the first thing I focus on when writing a song.
Also sometimes in terms of lyricism it can be as much as what is alluded to or not said, so for example The Ramones song Now I wanna Sniff some glue may seem like a pretty innocuous song about getting trashed at first. However if you look at the album as a whole there is a running theme of youth disillusionment, what they’re saying in between songs can have potency as well. They’re sniffing glue because they’re bored, why are they bored? So it functions as a means to opening out onto broader issues. I think one of the best albums I’ve heard recently when it comes to putting a message across was Call Me Malcolms, I was broken when you got here. It’s not even necessarily a political message but it looks at the issue of mental health which has been quite prominent in the band members experience over the last three years. The whole album almost replicates the process of a therapy session working through from the initial issue to its conclusion. What they managed to do is get the message across without compromising any of the quality of the music. I found that the sentiment of feeling quite low struck a chord with me and I think would do so for a lot of people.
Do you find the process of making music a cathartic experience yourself?
Absolutely, anyone who knows me quite well will know that I’m actually quite a timid person. I find it difficult to approach people and make friendships sometimes. However when I go up on stage and I see people who appear to be enjoying the songs I’m making with a great bunch of people who have worked really hard it’s a fantastic feeling.
What next for Filthy Militia?
At the moment we’re not getting paid much for doing gigs, though we haven’t done a free one for a little while, it’s still mostly a few quid and loads of beers, so we’re pooling the money and looking to get a bit further afield.There’s a lot of flux at the moment, our drummer just got married, our bassist is going to be a Dad in late July, congratulations to Justin and Lucy. we’re trying to fill up the rest of the year and as I said try and get onto Boomtown next year.
Any final thoughts?
Always shake hands firmly and always stand your ground.
Filthy Militia’s debut EP Innocent until proven Filthy is out now.
You can catch them at these upcoming gigs
7th July: The London Stone
20th July: Level Up Fest New X Inn
18th August: New X Inn