In the second and final part of our Professor and the Madman series, we conclude with an interview with the legendary Rat Scabies. For those that missed part 1, Professor and the Madman is the sonic masterwork of Alfie Agnew and Sean Elliot (Adolescents, D.I.) who have enlisted the musical creative help of Paul Gray (The Damned, Eddie & the Hot Rods) and Rat Scabies (The Damned, The Mutants) to create a melodic musical journey that you’ve never really experienced all put together like this. The four musicians are performing a one-off show at the legendary 100 Club in London on 10 August. I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Alfie and Rat to get some background on what brought about this fantastic musical collaboration and see if I could get any hints of what we might be in store when they finally all take the stage together in August for the first and only time! Read on!
Erin: Hello! I apologize for my appearance as we were out seeing Peter and the Test Tube Babies last night!
Rat: How was that?
Erin: There are not a lot of punk shows in Lyon, or live music period, so it was nice! I’ll get right into it as I know you’ve got your day ahead and I don’t want to hog it. How did you end up meeting and getting involved with Professor and the Madman?
Rat: I was meeting with a friend of mine at a sweater party. In America, they have these get-togethers around the holidays at which people wear these awful Christmas jumpers. I was with a buddy of mine who took me to see some friends of his, who happened to be the band Professor and the Madman. Towards the end of their set they asked me if I would come on stage and play drums on “Smash It Up,” which I did. Then they said “That went well, why don’t come over to our home studio and record a song with us?” That’s how it started. It really was that simple.
Erin: What are your major influences today? What inspires you today in any type of musical project you’re involved in?
Rat: Do you mean with new bands?
Erin: Any bands!
Rat: I like people with good songs, you know? If the material is strong then it makes it a really enjoyable thing. I like to be able to listen back to a track and be proud of my work. I like to be involved in quality records. I could make a lot of very bad punk records but I choose not to because I don’t get that much pleasure from necessarily playing them if the songs aren’t any good when I listen to them afterwards. What can I say — I’m getting picky in my old age!
Erin: I think you’ve earned the right to be selective and picky! Disintegrate Me came out earlier this year, the third in the Elixir series you’ve done. Is this the final chapter in the series?
Rat: I don’t know. I think everybody is rather pleased with where we’ve accomplished so far. It’s a bit like climbing Everest, you know? We do it in stages. And the stages have been going quite well. I think if it keeps going as well as it is, I don’t see a reason why we wouldn’t do more stuff in the future. I’m up for it anyway. I don’t know if they are! (Laughs.)
Erin: I love how the album covers so much musical ground.
Rat: I blame Sean and Alfie really. It’s their game, it’s their band and their songs and what I do is dictated by the work they’ve already put in. The eclectic side of it always appeals to me. I think records should be like a journey. They should take you through different moods and atmospheres.
Erin: This album is definitely like a journey. I really like Disintegrate Me because it has a lot of peaks and valleys, not just a flat line of the same type of songs. It’s really eclectic. I’m really impressed with how melodic it is.
Rat: Well, yeah. Also for me, they’re proper Californians. They grew up listening to and being exposed to, as well as absorbing, all the sort of sounds I used to hear from a long way away on those ‘60s records. To actually work with those kind of guys, who are the real thing (Californians), I get quite a buzz from it. They’ve got this genuine musical heritage that shines through in their work.
Erin: Do you get out to California very often?
Rat: When I can, yeah. It’s sort of a second home to me in a lot of ways. I’ve spent a lot of time in Orange County and more recently, Joshua Tree. It’s nice and warm.
Erin: Yes, it is! I’m originally from Huntington Beach.
Rat: Ooh! Really? I love Huntington Beach and have spent quite a bit of time there.
Erin: I grew up there and then I moved here to Lyon, France. I’ve been here about a year and the weather is completely different than what my mind and body are used to. I really miss the beach so much!
Rat: Lyon is a cool city though.
Erin: It’s cool, but I don’t think it has a good enough music scene. There’s nothing but DJ and techno stuff and very few live music venues. Most bands don’t pass through here.
Rat: They do enjoy a bottle of wine and a drum machine!
Erin: And they drone on and on! You have the big 100 Club show coming up August 10th?
Rat: Yes. When Sean asked me to do this live show, I said if we do one gig then we might as well do a hundred, because the same amount of work goes into it. He said, “Yeah, but I’d rather just do one great show.” I really couldn’t argue with that, so I said OK, I like that attitude.
Erin: Go big or go home!
Erin: How did you end up putting the show together? Did you want to just do one big venue?
Rat: Yeah, I think so. To be honest, the project is really new and I don’t think anyone really knew what direction it was going to bounce. Whether it would be worth doing a big show or not, and whether people would like the album or not. There are a lot of if’s and maybe’s that go along with it. Everybody’s taking it one step at a time.
Erin: I think it’s almost sold out.
Rat: Oh wow. I always get very nervous about things before a show.
Rat: I don’t know how it’s going to work out until I’m sitting up there. We’ve got some solid rehearsal time and I know the songs really, really well so it should be a pretty good night. I’m looking forward to it.
Erin: I think you’re recording it for a limited vinyl release?
Rat: Are we? (Laughs.)
Erin: You’ve got an event in Dublin on Monday, June 11th, the storyteller event. How did you get involved with that?
Rat: It’s an idea I’ve had. One of the things I’ve realized is that people all over the world enjoy a good story. I thought there would be value in picking cool places with scenic beauty, and then detailing the heritage and folklore of that particular place. We tend to drive past all of these beautiful places in our car, totally unaware of their back stories. I thought, the Irish, they are the best storytellers in the world! These won’t be complicated or long. It’s just an effort at keeping the local traditions alive.
Erin: These are like folklore stories that perhaps originated in the village or stories that have been handed down from generation to generation?
Rat: Some of it will be that, some of it will be modern day. The topics I listed pretty much cover everything from family disputes to ghosts. Everything is fair game! I’m hoping for a cross section of everything because I, myself, am a history enthusiast. The idea is to set up a camera, give someone a few beers, and say, “Tell me your story.”
Erin: I think it’s a fantastic idea. How many people are participating in it? Is it one person that comes in with the best story or several people?
Rat: We’ll probably be running three stories per episode, so it won’t be long and drawn out. They will be thirty-minute shows. Hopefully, they will draw the viewer in and make them want to check back in for the next story.
Erin: If it goes well, do you plan on taking the idea to other villages/cities?
Rat: Yeah, that’s the thing, this is a durable concept that can be applied anywhere. Ireland is the starting point. But the next place is Mexico.
Erin: Oh wow, really?
Rat: Well, yeah!
Erin: They’ve got some of the best folklore stories and other crazy stuff!
Rat: Absolutely. And again, that tradition sort of sprang to mind immediately and nobody other than the Mexicans really get to hear those stories.
Erin: They’re extremely generational. It’s handed down from great-great grandparents and uncles and aunts and brothers and they are extremely interesting and passionate stories. What part of Mexico?
Rat: I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far. I’ll try and find the equivalent of Glastonbury or the Rennes-le-Château. I’ve gone to Rennes-le-Château recently and I do get down there quite a lot.
Erin: This isn’t something that I have heard of anybody doing. It’s obviously not new, but you’re taking the time to actually document these stories and put them into a cohesive series.
Rat: I like the fact that it’s a very simple idea. I’m getting too old to kind of fuck about with complexities. It just seems like such an easy, direct thing to do and there’s such a wealth of material out there that should be heard.
Erin: And it ends up preserving or creating new stories for the future generations.
Rat: I do quite a few different sorts of talks about punk rock and that’s what made me sort of think, wow, this is forty years on and people still have an active interest in what was really going on. In a sense, recent history is more interesting because you can sort of reach out and touch it. Then again, when you start moving on to mythical and magical things, the older the stories are. They become more rooted in faith. That is interesting to me, to capture some of those beliefs.
Erin: I hope it goes well because I think it’s such a great idea and concept.
Rat: Well, thank you.
Erin: Good luck for the first one on Monday! OK, this is my last question so I can let you get on with your day and thank you again for taking the time out this morning to chat with me as I really appreciate it! How do you think the internet enhances or destroys the creativity of the mind?
Rat: It enhances it because everybody has a global audience instead of just being stuck in a local scene. Which is also its worst aspect because now you have a sea of a billion souls trying to be noticed. It’s a double-edged sword. I like the fact that a young filmmaker can post their film on YouTube and if people like it he can become a success through that. Unfortunately, what we have now is almost like a binary system where if you want to do a deal with any type of company —record company or whatever — they look at how many people like your website or how many followers you have. It’s kind of bogus because you can buy all those sorts of things. The same thing with the majors and the big boys. They have the money and the resources to kind of exploit it because they have more than I have. Mere mortals don’t really stand a chance because they don’t have those same resources.
Erin: It’s not a level playing field.
Rat: No. But that’s always been the great thing about any type of alternative music like punk, as it was something that grew on its own. And then once the people with money kind of realized there was a very large audience, that was when they began to accept it and all join in. So, I think it’s always word of mouth. You actually always have to have the public behind you.
Erin: Are you going to be stopping by Rebellion this year?
Rat: I wasn’t planning on it.
Rat: Nah, I doubt it. I’m not sure where I’ll be. When is it?
Erin: August 2, 3, 4 and 5th.
Rat: No, I think I’ll be rehearsing with Professor and the Madman for the 100 Club show.
Erin: Well I’m hoping I get to see your show!
Rat: If so, I look forward to seeing you.
Erin: Thank you so much for this. It’s been a really good conversation. Enjoy your day!
Rat: Thank you!