UK punk legends Peter and the Test Tube Babies are back and burning after a lengthy hiatus with a new album, the amusingly-titled That’s Shallot which was released last week. Sentinel Daily editor Scott Adams caught up with Peter himself for a bit of a chinwag about matters punk…
That’s Shallot is your first all-new album since 2005’s A Foot Full of Bullets. Was it an enjoyable experience to be back in the studio making music? “It was very enjoyable indeed, actually. Fantastic. We’re almost a new band, really, We have a new bass player (Paul ‘H’ Henrickson) and our drummer Dave has only been in the band about a year, so it was a really enjoyable experience. We knew we had some really good songs. So yes, very enjoyable and we hope to be doing it again soon”.
You mention the songs there. Being that there has been quite a gap between albums, are the songs on this album new and written with the new lineup or are they songs you’ve stockpiled over time? “Some of those songs were written even before the last record. Crap Californian Punk Bands is nearly twenty years old! I’m always writing lyrics, but they don’t always get to be made into songs. We have plenty of sets of lyrics waiting to be turned into songs! But yes, some of those songs have been kicking around for a while. We just went back and changed some things, made them better”.
So that being the case, you’re always writing stuff down as it comes to you – have you never been tempted to do a solo record of some description? “No, not really. Let’s stick with the Test Tubes. I don’t need to go out on my own”.
There seems to be a fair bit of disgruntlement going on in the lyrics of quite a few of the songs. Would that be true to say? “I went through a very long divorce process. About three years (starts laughing). Some of the songs were written then! So you’re right. There are some songs where I’m a bit disgruntled”.
We’ll come back to the new album in a moment. The band originated in Peacehaven, which isn’t the sort of gritty, inner-city hell hole people like to associate with punk rock. “No, it’s not!” (more laughter)
Do you think that might be why the band came to be known more for their humorous angle in the early days, because they didn’t have that ‘deprived’ experience to call on? “I think you’re right. We weren’t really deprived. We lived as you say in a place called Peacehaven which is a nice seaside town. Maybe a bit boring, but it wasn’t a gritty, run-down council estate type of place. So yes, you’re right. Maybe that is why our songs have not been so political, or angry”.
There’s a song on the new album, None of Your Fucking Business, which is probably my favourite song of the year so far. “Really?”
Yes, I love that song. My wife came in from work the other day to find me jigging about in my underpants, singing along at the top of my voice (a declaration which provokes more laughter at the other end of the phone). What’s the song all about? “If I remember rightly I had a girlfriend at the time I wrote it who was always checking my phone, checking my laptop… and it’s just a response to that really. Just a ‘give me a bit of privacy’ type of thing. I’m sure everybody’s felt like that at some time in their life”.
Yes. Moving on, you’ve got an awful lot of shows coming up in the near future. Is it important to you to be playing as much as possible at the moment, or would you prefer to perhaps pick and choose where you play a bit more? “At the moment it’s important for us to be playing as often as we can because that’s where the money is. But I’m hoping that next year, if this album is the success that I think it should be, then maybe we can start to pick and choose. But at the moment we’re continuing to play as many gigs as possible. We still enjoy playing live, so we’ll just carry on and see what happens. Hopefully we can come to Australia next year”.
You say you’re still enjoying playing live, but what about the other side of touring – the travel, the poor food et cetera. Do still get a buzz from that side? “I enjoy that as well. One of the most enjoyable aspects of touring is that you get to go all over the world for free. I’ve been to Australia twice, and I’ve never had to pay for it! In fact I’ve been paid to go to Australia, which is even better!”
Let’s assume this album does as well as you think it will, you’ll be doing another album for label Arising Empire – you say you’re writing all the time. If the label said ‘give us a new album in three months time!’ would you be ready to go? “Might be a bit of a push! As I said I’ve got lots of sets of lyrics and (guitarist) Derek says he’s got lots and lots of tunes. I think it would take us a bit more than three months to filter out the best of those songs. It would be possible but I’d prefer to take a bit more time. I don’t want to rush out an album because ‘I have to’. I think when bands do that, often you’ll find the quality of the song is not what it should be. The fact that it’s taken this amount of time to release a new album means that it’s given us a chance to look through all the songs that we had and only use the best ones. We were afforded the luxury of time to do that. If we were rushed to make another album the quality of the songs might not be so good”.
It’s a very stylistically varied album. “It’s like our first album, isn’t it?”
Yes. You clearly didn’t want to do an album of just fast, catchy punk songs. There’s a nice variety on there. “That’s what I like about it. In fact a lot of people have picked up on the diversity. We always try to keep the listener interested. If you have an album where all the songs sound the same, you’re going to lose interest. In fact I’ve noticed that recently with some albums I’ve been given; by about the fourth song, if that sounds much like the first three songs, I’m afraid my interest is lost. I think a lot of bands don’t fully appreciate that the audience needs to be entertained. You need to be entertained as much by a record as you do by a band playing live”.
That’s very true. Some of it, in my opinion, has to do with the way people listen to music today. They play a song from Spotify, or pick and choose a couple of tracks from iTunes – bands very often don’t pay attention to the sequencing of a record any more for that reason. “Exactly. When we recorded the album we did take quite a lot of time deciding which track was going to go where. I specifically wrote the song In Your Face to be the opening track. But that was the only track that we knew where it was going to go on the album. Apart from that, for all the others, we had to think long and hard. I hope that we’ve put them in the right place and that one song leads to another. Or even maybe that the listener is surprised by what the next song is!”
As a listener, I thought the first time I listened to it that I wanted to keep listening to it, to see what was coming next. It’s done very well. Different songs will appeal to different people but it all fits together so well. Our writer Michael Stronge, who reviewed the album for us, was very impressed by the way you’d managed to connect James Bond to Cider on Tramp Killer, for instance. “Haha… well, we’ve often thought about attempting a James Bond theme. We thought we’d give it a go on this album and I think it’s worked out really well!”
But who’s idea was it to put the cider references into the song? “I think it was mine and Derek’s. If I remember rightly Derek wrote a few lines and then gave it to me, saying ‘here, you need to finish this off’. On my first draught I managed to get every single James Bond film title into the song. But that was a bit much so out of all of the lyrics I wrote we were able to pick and choose the best lines”.