Stig Miller (Amebix) was empowred by lack of opportunity and is concentrate on his sanity and music
This interview was originally translated to portuguese and published in 2014 at the portal Zona Punk from Brazil. The original link is here: http://zp.blog.br/?m=interviews&id=295.
If you my friend out there behind the device screen — be it a cellphone or a computer — enjoy heavy music, you must know Amebix. At least heard about them. Even the band being one of the most underrated acts in the extreme scenario ‘till nowadays, since the inception they helped to pave crooked ways that, later, would known as crust punk. But Amebix is more than that! If we consider only the musical aspect, the group serves themselves from a cauldron of hard and bleak influences — raging from Black Sabbath to Crass, going through Motörhead, Sisters of Mercy and Killing Joke — to forge a sound that can be considered unique. What these english lords of dark sounds did was to develop an unpaired and anarchic style that has more to do with a desire to express itself than to know how to play music in a proper way. The inspiration to did that was a “no future” social, cultural and financial times where melancholy and bleakness were in the air. And the sound of Amebix is a soundtrack for this: ravenous, agonizing and choking.
It makes them a sort of a cult name among people who enjoy extreme music. Genres like doom, grind, sludge and black metal owe some respect to the Miller brothers. Sepultura, Neurosis, Darkthrone, Antisect e Hellhammer are just few examples that are openly fans of this guys that warned us loudly that there is no gods no masters.
Their legacy includes three studio álbuns, EPs and unresolved issues. Since the beginning in 1978 till the fnal dissolution in 2012 the creative core of the band were the Miller’s Brothers: Rob (vox and bass) and Stig (guitar). After the split up, the two musicians took their own paths and didn’t talk to each other anymore.
In 2014, i did notice Stig Miller was disclosing some solo tracks on facebook. Then i contact him and did an interview request that he accepted to do. Between the messages trading and e-mails, this is the outcome we have. On the online conversation that you can read bellow we tackled about his career with Amebix and the band’s recognizement — or the lack of it —, new projects, the relationship with his brother, how is to live in squats, anarchism and the way he sees the world.
First of all, please: complete name, age and where were you born?
Stig — I was born In Bromsgrove near Birmingham (UK) in 1962. The town name apparently has some connection to the warrior God “Bron” as in “Bronze age“.
Do you remember when and why music became something important in your life?
Stig — As a young child really and as a teenager i was obsessed with music, as a way of expressing myself. But actually playing music didn’t really start until i left school in 1977. There was a lot of exciting things going on back then in the very early days of punk rock.
Why music means and communicate so much to you? I mean, you could be involved with literature, theatre, painting…. but chose music instead another kind of art.
Stig — Personally i don’t have the right kind of brain for theatre or literature really, although i appreciate it. I found music easier to concentrate on , i did not do well in school — i guess what they now call “Attention Defeciet Disorder “ back then meant you were just a “bad kid “. I could have gone into Art but was turned down at all the art colleges i applied for. A few said my pictures were too “violent’ ( ha ha). It was a different era, the 70s.
You said that you were turned down in some art colleges. Can you tell a little bit more about that?
Stig — Well i was in a special school for troubled kids, you know, kids that were sent there by local authorities because they couldn’t think what to do with them. Basically a school for naughty kids. And the only thing i really liked was art and music, i wasn’t interested in anything else. But the funding for art materials teaching and supplies was very small as it was a recession. So i had a folder of different pairings and pictures i think i applied to about five different Art Colleges and none of them accepted me. Two replies back said my artwork was too violent. They probably thought i was some kind of phsycho kid being from a school like that. ha ha
After discover music as a passion, which records and bands led you to the ‘dark side of the force’ (i mean heavy and extreme music)? What elements of those types of songs did make up your mind?
Stig — “The dark side of the force “? Im not sure really, as a young lad i was always listening to the “underground “ music of those times. I was originally a huge Bowie fan and that too some extent introduced me to stuff like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed by association. Then i guess The Sex Pistols and all that was the next step. Also some of the underground bands of the time like Hawkwind influenced me a lot and also Black Sabbath.
Amebix was your first musical project?
Stig — Well it was my first proper attempt to start a band that had a proper name, with my brother.
In the begining the group was called ‘The Band Has No Name’, right? From where did you get this name and why change it to Amebix? Is there something to do with amoebas?
Stig — It was originally The Band With No Name as we couldn’t think of one and also in tribute to the early spaghetti westerns as in “The Man With No Name”, “Fistful of Dollars” and all that Clint Eastwood stuff.
The name Amebix comes from a couple of different things, the idea of a simple word /sound mantra. As a kid i couldn’t concentrate in school and started getting into loads of trouble. So my mum took me to learn some meditation, thinking it might help me not be so angry and get me focused (good idea in theory). Anyway she takes me into town to see this “guru” guy but naturally i’m not impressed at all being 13 years old. I’m going “but muuuum this is hippie bullshit !”. She makes me go anyway. So the guy gave me this “mantra” it was strange because even though it didn’t mean anything in English, i was impressed how the sound of the word stayed with me and how i never forgot it. So when it came down to finding a band name years later that experience was usefull, to combine pieces of words and sounds to make a meaning of its own, something that has no real meaning outside of itself. Also a band name really only has impact or shock value the very first time you hear it, after that it becomes a brand associated with the music and people in the it. The actually real life meaning becomes unimportant anyway just a succession of sounds, that was some quite cosmic thinking for a teenager, something i would not have grasped if my mum hadn’t made me go see the “guru” guy. So thanks, mum! Hence Amebix carries the idea of simplicity or basic primitive music in a word /sound.
Were you and your brother Rob that started the band, right? Was your aim since the beginning do a heavy and gloomy kind of music? In an old interview Rob said: “The thing about Amebix was that we weren’t trying to make the sound that later got labelled the Amebix sound or the crust punk sound. We were working with what we had at the time. And for people to go back and try to create that, you’re losing the whole point. You’ve already lost the artistic statement, that’s gone, BOOM, it’s disappeared in the smoke, it was done and it ain’t gonna be done again.” I’d like to know what you had at that time to forge your style, which elements were combined to result in what we know as a crust punk nowadays?
Stig — I must concur with my brother on that statement above. I mean: trying to recreate that sound now is like using a laser scapel to peel potatoes. We had basic cheap shitty equipment and absolutely no musical knowledge and that sheer bloody minded determination is how we got our sound.
And what do you thought when realized that Amebix was a sort of pioneer of something?
Stig — I always knew we had something a bit diferent. Even in the early crap gigs you could tell it was different from everything else. I guess we were empowered by boredom/poverty and lack of opportunity. We turned it around a little. Now i am proud of making something out of nothing real magic directed into the “real” world.
You guys were delighted when the band started to getting bigger and conquer fans all around the world?
Stig — “Delighted “ ha ha ha. I’ve don’t think I’ve ever been “delighted” about anything, but it was nice to get some recognition from people/bands that had used our music as a starting board. So that was nice but that’s not why i do it. I don’t care about that. People now don’t understand how hated we were originally, no one understood what we were doing. There is a certain kind of belief you have to have in yourself and what you are doing and in the other people you are doing it with. “Success” to an extent weakens that “us against the world” mentality. Although that said who wants to be playing shit holes and getting stuff chucked at them into old age for nothing?
Be part of a compilation organized by the guys from Crass (Bullshit Detector, 1980) with one of your first written songs must have been awesome. As if wasn’t enough, after that you had your first full length Arise! (1984) released by Jello Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles (you were the first UK band at the AT catalogue, actually). Which was the importance of those achievements as a new band? Do you think it helped the band to get known outside England?
Stig — I think being on AT definitely got us know outside of the UK. I guess as some kind of “cult” underground phenomenon. Biafra’s backing of us certainly didn’t do us any harm in my opinion.
Just few years after that, when Monolith (1987) was released, the band split up. What happened?
Stig — One day my brother said he didn’t want to do it anymore, different things were happening and i guess it became just a huge pain in the ass to do.
You and other guys from Amebix at that time became Zygote and Rob went to an island works as a swordsmith. How was it? How was the experience playing guitar and singing in a new band?
Stig — It was ok i guess. Having to start all over again was kind of difficult, you know building a reputation up as a band and all that. Zygote was much more excessive with substances and drinking than Amebix was so it was short lived. So we really didn’t have the time to develop properly our sound, but fuck it. It´s of it’s time, we had a good time all the time. You can’t maintain that for long.
Long time after — in 2008, if i remember correctly — Amebix got together again. Why do you guys decided to did this reunion that resulted in gigs and in a new record (Sonic Mass, 2012)?
Stig — Well we were working on new versions of old songs for a retrospective DVD and it all clicked and one thing led to another i guess.
On that phase Roy Mayorga (Nausea, Soulfly, Stone Sour…) was the drummer. How was his influence in the creation and in the recording process?
Stig — Integral, we could not have either toured or recorded without Roy’s knowledge of modern recording methods and touring experience.
Guess most of Amebix lyrics were written by Rob. Did you used to do this too or were only involved with the instrumental part?
Stig — Mostly instrumental part but i sometimes would pop in a good idea or the occasional title.
One year after Sonic Mass the band ended the activities. Why?
Stig — I can’t answer that, i don’t know.
There were some rumours that you could be struggling with addiction problems at that time. Is it true or just people talking shit that they don’t know?
Stig — If that was the case i wouldn’t lie about it, but no i don’t drink and i don’t take drugs. I used to do both a lot, i have never hidden that fact from anyone. I have been very ill with health problems left over from the years of hard living, but I’m getting better everyday and i will survive and make more music.
On the Amebix site (amebix.net – that is off the air now) we could saw a live video recorded in Mineapolis with some caption that said “This has been part of an ongoing project that I’ve been putting together for a future release with the entire gig”. There were plans to release this material someday?
Stig — I don’t know, i no longer have any control over what is released.
Let’s talk about you and your solo career. Before start to ask you what are you doing nowadays, musically speaking, i´d like to know if you are ok with the fact that Amebix is one of the most underrated artists inside de heavy music. Are you?
Stig — Am i ok with being underrated ? ha ha ha ha. Yes mate i fucking love it ha ha ha! No seriously i guess it’s better than being overated because then people will find out you’re no good after they’ve bought your records and they might want their money back. I guess being underrated you have a chance to surprise people. You know I’m always hearing people say “i forgot just how good Amebix were“. We were always “good” you just weren’t paying attention. Anyway being “underrated” has a certain “j,ne sais quoi”. So no i don’t care really.
I believe the massive success never been on your goals, but don’t you think Amebix deserve to be more recognized?
Stig — What like Green Day or Foo Fighters or something ? I can’t see how that would work really. I mean we’re not young and pretty anymore and ready to kill ourselves slogging around the same old circuit desperately seeking that illusive something that defines recognition. Anyway if you are living your life for the approval of others why bother making music or being in a band ? Its about making art. Not everyone loves Van Gogh but even the ones that don’t will admit to him being a good artist.
Do you can live only as musician in these days? I mean, do you earn enough money as an artist?
Stig — ha ha! No.
You passed sometime in squats, right? How long do you lived in this kind of places and what you learned from that experience? What is the good and the bad things about occupations? Why most part of the society are against this alternative way of living?
Stig — Many years. Appreciate the little you have there’s always someone with less. The good thing is having a roof over your head and the bad things are poverty, constant insecurity and the addictions that gather around constant insecurity and poverty. The people that are against it are usually the same people that want to build a new block of flats or supermarket right where you are having you’re “alternative way of living”.
Talking about society… In one of your’s interview you claim that “unless you had money or property invested in the system there was and still is nothing in it for you really, so you have to create something for yourself and your friends outside of the society. Although you are never truly disconnected from it in a real way, you are on the fringes of it.” How we can create something good around us?
Stig — That’s a very good question, i wish i knew the full answer to that. Here’s what i’ve learnt from life so far, in order to change the external we as a species have to change and evolve internally. In my opinion and the opinion of many others, there is no way forward with the way things are now, we have to evolve and i know it sounds all “New Agey and Hippy” but it’s true. More people everyday hypnotised by television and media, bombarded with false promises of happiness if they will just “buy this” or “do that”. A lot of people spend their lives looking forward to when there “going to win the lottery” or looking back to when they were young and happy instead of looking at “right now” this moment. That’s all there is! In a second it will be the past and you will have moved into the future whilst fixating on something that is yet to happen or something that’s already happened or something that may never happen.
Do you guess the mankind can be better in the future? Why?
Stig — Well i think the next few years are going to be very difficult for people. Whether it gets better after that? Let’s hope so.
You released some acoustic songs on the web (‘I Go Dark’, ‘Twas Ever Does’ and ‘If They Really Want Your Soul’). Are these songs part of an upcoming album?
Stig — Well I am hoping to release some of these in a physical format at some time. I have plenty of songs it’s just i need to compile everything and raise money to release it. Maybe an EP, maybe more I’m not sure yet. I have so many musical projects going on that are all kind of different so i don’t think i could put them all on one record.
Do you will bet on this format for the future (just voice and guitar) or are you planning got back with a complete band?
Stig — Well it was just an experiment to see if i could make some heavy acoustic based music originally. Some of it i would need a band to play live for definitely.
To you, a solo career can helps to push the boundaries of the music? Being in a band can be something limited, for example?
Stig — Well not all ideas can be used in a band situation. It’s give and take a shared experience , you put in a riff or idea and it gets used by the band or chopped altered to fit something or maybe it’s doesn’t fit the song or whatever so it doesn’t get used. So you end up having loads of riffs and ideas that you can do something with as a solo artist but that don’t work as band ideas. That’s a good thing, a different direction again. Always learning changing evolving and that’s what i am doing at the moment: teaching myself new skills and also writing pieces for other bands (but that’s a secret for now).
Do you have contact with Rob? Mean, are you friends besides brothers? Is he the owner of name Amebix and who decided ended up the activities?
Stig — I haven’t seen my brother for almost four years now. We both “own” the name but i would never do Amebix on my own or with anybody else. It’s been a lifetimes work off and on. A journey from young lads to fairly old farts. I personally have not enjoyed the last few years and the whole Sonic Mass thing. In my humble opinion we were being pushed in a direction that would never work. Fucking PR people we don’t know trying to tell us what to do, stupid publicit, all that music business bullshit. As for any personal or family stuff i really won’t go into that. Other than i can’t see Amebix happening again despite my attempts to keep the spirit alive. Well not in the forseeable future anyway. At the moment i need to concentrate on my health and sanity and music.
Are you a biker, right? How many bikes do you have and do you conciliate this passion with the punk way of life? Mean, in Brazil we have some biker groups that are in strain about punks and his culture.
Stig — No, wouldn’t call myself a “biker”. I’ve had bikes, i like bikes, but I’m not a joiner, i don’t want to belong to any particular group of people.
You have some libertarian thoughts. Do you consider yourself an anarchist? Do you believe in anarchy as a way to reform society and make the world a little bit better?
Stig — I am a believer in anarchy working on a small scale among people that know each other (i’ve seen it work ) but not on a larger scale without people evolving somehow and seeing past they’re own needs to the general common good. Unfortunately what is termed the “common good ” is dictated to us by people that don’t have to live in poverty or austerity out here in the real world. They can talk about it from they’re gated communities and because they have monopolised just about every natural recourse, water, electricity, oil, gas… They can dictate now this has moved into the virtual arena with Google practically owning all our personal data. Facebook too selling our information to third parties and all that. I am fully aware that privacy is now a thing of the past and too end i believe some very difficult times are coming for humanity. Things that were once thought imaginary are going to become real, the masks will fall and we will all be forced to look at the true face. Some will go mad from seeing the sheer horror of it but i believe in the the human spirit.
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