VICE Premiere

VICE Exclusive: Check Out Unsung 80s Post-Punk Heroes the Mothmen

Everybody from Liars to Battles to Deerhoof and the Dirty Projectors owe a great debt to the Mothmen's interlocking riffs and rhythms, whether they know it or not.

by Charlie Ambler
26 May 2015, 5:00am

The Mothmen were a short-lived English post-punk band who, despite their quick lifespan, managed to churn out a small but strong batch of visionary music that was way ahead of its time. Their second album, Pay Attention!, released by dub label On-U Sound in 1981, is an angular, jittery pop record, with just enough weirdness to wander into the realm of psychedelia. It saw limited release and, for the most part, the band was forgotten to time. Now, On-U Sound is reissuing Pay Attention! complete with some unreleased bonus tracks, and the band is finally getting the recognition they deserve. Everybody from Liars to Battles to Deerhoof and the Dirty Projectors owe a great debt to the Mothmen's interlocking riffs and rhythms, whether they know it or not. I chatted with two of the band's original members—drummer Chris Joyce and multi-instrumentalist Bob Harding—about their band, why post-punk is stupid, and On-U's reissue, which will be out June 2.

VICE: How did the rediscovery of this album change your perspectives on the music you guys made together?
Chris Joyce: I was always very proud of what the Mothmen did. The music was crazy and self-indulgent, but that was because we were young and didn't give a fuck. We weren't doing it for any sort of commercial success or to be trendy. It came about because of wanting to experiment with the perceived norm.

Bob Harding: A couple of nights ago I listened to the entire album (including the bonus tracks) and I really enjoyed it. Prior to the current reissue project I hadn't thought much about the album in years. With the reissue in the pipeline, a lot of people—especially some a lot younger than me—started saying how much they liked the album. I'd still say it was a bit self-indulgent but I think it had a lot of balls and attitude too... Not to mention a touch of humor as well.

You've all since worked on numerous other projects. How has your creative attitude evolved since you wrote these songs?
The other projects I've worked on have been in management and running a record label which certainly require a bit of creativity but it's not the same as the artistic kind. The Blood and Fire label could certainly have been a bit more of a creative experience for me but that's not the way it panned out and I ended up being the book-keeper basically. Does creative accountancy count?

Joyce: It wasn't long after Pay Attention! was recorded that we, as individuals, needed to earn money either because kids were on the way or rent had to be paid. One is still the same person who did the crazy stuff but also had the skills to do the "straighter" money-earning music. The creative attitude comes from the same well of musical knowledge, it just gets applied in a different way.

Will you try to do any touring or live material?
Harding: Personally speaking, the answer is a definite "No." I know there are people of my age and even older who are still touring but it doesn't really appeal to me. On a personnel level it would be extremely difficult anyway; out of the four original members one is dead and the whereabouts of another currently unknown. That just leaves Chris and me. Our best bet would probably be to train up a bunch of young kids and send them out as the Mothmen to play Pay Attention! live.

How do you feel about the "post-punk" label being retroactively assigned to your music?
Post-punk is one of those catch-all labels which doesn't describe any particular genre but merely references a particular moment in time. In musical terms, "post-punk" could be a lot of things but I think the one strand that pulls them all together would be that punk's DIY ethos continued to be embraced in the post-punk era.

The most obvious manifestation of this was the emergence of hundreds of small independent labels. Some thrived, some fell by the wayside, some like On-U Sound are still going strong. Many new genres have emerged and the digital revolution has totally transformed the landscape but I would say that the continued existence of a vibrant indie scene would be the legacy of the post-punk era.

Joyce: Post-punk seems to be of more importance to people who like labels and journalists who need to have a hat to hang an article on. And also people who weren't there at the time. As far as what can be learned from it... Go and listen to the music, do your own research, educate yourself!

Thanks guys. Glad your album is finally getting the recognition it deserves.