Chumbawumba Speak To SonicAbuse

Checking in with another blinding interview, our Polish correspondant Kosa talks to the mighty Chumbawumba who made fame back in the ninties with ‘Tubthumping’ but who always had far more to them than that one hit as this revealing interview shows. Enjoy!

K: Many thanks for the interview. How are things at Chumba nowadays?

 They’re fine thanks. Such a general question, I could tell you anything, and it might be true or it might be a lie. But in this case, it’s true.

K: You prefer talking about the music or about the message that the lyrics bring?

 I prefer to talk about anything you ask me about. I don’t care if it’s music or message.

K: Do any person with a world view other than yours has a chance to be a part of Chumbawamba?

 Yes. Because our worldview is wider, bigger, than you might think. Then again, no, because we don’t want right-wing bigots or bores to be part of the band

K: Do you think that if you had different, more conformist views and weren’t involved in the punk movement you would be making music?

 That’s a good question. I don’t know. Honestly I don’t. I love music, and I love that I’m able to make music for my ‘work’. But really, music isn’t as important for me as trying to talk about the world. So following from what you say, if Chumbawamba was some shitty pop music band with nothing to say, I wouldn’t be in it. They might be successful. They make good tunes. But with nothing to say? I’m not listening. But… then again, I think making music without politics is fine. In fact it’s better than fine. I don’t want to work in an office, Mother

K: Why did you decide to play that kind of music? Punk movement is usually associated with more violent and harder tunes than yours? Your music is calmer and would have a good chance of becoming a part of the mainstream if it hadn’t been for the lyrics. Haven’t you ever thought of that? Isn’t it tempting to be famous and  make tons of money and?

 We made tons of money with one song (Tubthumping) and that’s enough. I don’t care about fame. Oh my goodness, fame is so shallow and idiotic and stupid.

I was born through punk and to me, in Britain in 1977/78, it wasn’t about violent and harder tunes – it was about change and challenge. Slits, Patrik Fitzgerald, Raincoats, Au Pairs, Clash, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, it was all amazing and varied and lots of different kinds of music. Punk was an idea, not a style of music. It was never about fame, and that’s what attracted me. And that’s what’s behind Chumbawamba – not style but substance.

 K: When asked about MP3 You say that You are very happy with the fact that people are sharing Your music. Why then don’t You make all your albums available on your website? Do you see downloading music from internet as a part of fight with the corporations, or just a way of getting to music?

I’d rather people bought our records, because we put a lot of care and attention into the sleeves, the production and the packaging. We do it all ourselves, and we want people to get what we make as a package. BUT. (A big But) – if the CD isn’t available in a country, or if people can’t get the money to buy our CD’s, then people should be able to get our music for free, in whatever form they can get it. Downloading is a great way to hear our music. All our albums are available on download, so go and get them!

K: Don’t You see yourselves as a “one hit band”. Many people don’t even know that you still exist?

Of course we’re a ‘one hit band’. Absolutely.

K: Do you think that if you would have never made “Tubthumping” you would became such a big star that you once were?

 We would be the same underground band we are now. Presumably. We never wanted to be ‘stars’ and hopefully we never were ‘stars’ despite having a big hit.

 K: What do you regret more: singing with the Emi, or the fact that your contract with Emi got terminated?

 I don’t regret a single thing about signing with EMI. We got everything we wanted out of them. I’m a fan of the Sex Pistols, and I loved the idea that Malcolm McLaren could ‘use’ a record company while keeping his own integrity. The contract with EMI was terminated exactly when we wanted it to be terminated.

 K: How did the “underground” react when you came back to them after your period in Emi?

 We never “came back to them”. We just carried on doing what we always did, making radical songs on our own terms.

 K: Don’t you think there are a lot of contradictions in your actions? First you have your song on a tape entitled “Fuck Emi”, and then you have a contract with Emi. Now you write a song “Add me” and yet you have an internet profile on myspace. You say no to corporations yet you allow your song to be on the soundtrack to a computer game of one of the biggest game developing companies- Electronic Arts

 We are part of the world, we like to play with ideas, we refuse to be bored. Yes, there are huge contradictions. We embrace those contradictions. It’s important, I think, for anarchist politics to accept its contradictions. We’re not a political party or a hard-line ideology. We are a contradiction.

I’m an anarchist, and anarchism to me is about change, accepting change. Change because things could be better. Some of those changes mean challenging the rules, playing with the laws.

‘Add Me’ is a song that is critical of MySpace. In a funny way. We thought that if we were to have a MySpace site we should write a song about MySpace.  And that it might be funny. And that maybe people wouldn’t analyse it, criticise it, whatever. It’s just funny. And it’s not about MySpace, it’s about strange people…

As for the other problem – Chumbawamba criticise capitalism, but we have a bank account, we make a commodity for sale, etc etc.

We never claimed to be perfect. We are not only imperfect, we are sometimes openly crap! And proud of it. We’re just trying. Crap, but trying.

Electonic Arts – yes, some boring games manufacturers. We creamed money from them. Tons of it. Really. And you know, we gave a lot of it away to anarchist projects and organisations.

 K: Does the fact that you lost your contract with Emi and failed to be signed by any other major label influenced the fact that there are only four of you now?

 Ha, not at all. We’ve been doing this thing for so long. We changed. The EMI thing is such a small part of our history. I have to make something clear right now. We left EMI as much as they wanted to get rid of us. We didn’t weep and wail and beg them to have us. We didn’t wish we could just hang around for another couple of years. We left them. Is that clear enough?

 K: Did you have to come back to your regular works after the whole Emi thing didn’t work out or are you still capable of living just from playing music?

 We make a part-time living out of playing music. We never expected or wanted the EMI thing to “work out”, as in, wanting it to pay us a regular wage; thank you sir, 9 am to 5pm, we’ve written some songs sir, can I have my pay now? It was never like that and we didn’t care what happened to the EMI contract. We’re happy to be able to do this on the scale we do it.

 K: Isn’t the title of your latest album a kind of regret that you failed in the widely understood pop business and lost to boy bands?

 No. Read the whole title! It’s a way of saying, we can defeat this crap, let’s stop this crap.

 K: Do you actually believe that some day there will be enough people sharing your point of view in the world to change it? And if not, why bother trying to change something?

 I wake up and switch the telly on, and watch the morning TV news every day. And every day there’s something on there that makes me think, there’s a reason to fight, a reason to sing, a reason to shout. And in that moment I don’t know if there will be people sharing my point of view. I just know that I have to do something about it.

 K: Where did the idea of inviting guests for your album came from?

 I don’t know. It just happened. We don’t want to repeat ourselves musically.

 K: You put explanations to your lyrics on you website and in the album sleeves. Don’t you think it’s better to leave the interpretation of the lyrics to the listener?

 That’s the old Elvis Costello argument. Which I respect. But I don’t agree with. When I hear a song, I’d like to know what it’s about, and what the lyrics are. I like the context. I grew up reading lyrics on sleeves, on the bus on the way back home from the record shop. I want a band to be more than just a sound. 

 K: Are there any chances for the return of “electrical” Chumbawamba?

 Not much, right now. I went out with Harry tonight and it wasn’t on the agenda!

 K: In one of the interviews one of you said that you make your music so that “those who listen to it would have fun but at the same time got your message”. Doesn’t it sound like something that could be compared to brainwashing?;)

 I’m not sure about the brainwashing. Do you think Chumbawamba has the ability to brainwash people? If we had, we’d be out there brainwashing the fascist, racist fuckers who populate all the dark corners of the earth, making them sweet and gentle.

 K: Are there any chances that you going to visit Poland in the nearby future?

 I don’t know. I hope so. I love playing in Poland.

 K: Once again many thanks for the interview. I am very happy that I had a chance to do it, because I am a great fan of what you’re doing although some questions may suggest otherwise. Is there anything that you would like to say to our readers?

 There is something I’d like to say. Most of Chumbawamba lives in a part of Leeds that is now full of Polish migrant families and workers. My daughter goes to school, she learns the Polish words for ‘hello’, ‘thankyou’,  and ‘goodbye’. And we love it. We love that Poland is now part of our community, when ten years ago it seemed distant.

 That’s all 


 Interview conducted by Kosa for his website.

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