Music that dared to talk about real life:
An interview with Martin Bowes on the punk rock, spirituality, and art that has fueled 40 years of ATTRITION
Martin, let's start at the beginning. Could you explain how you came to start Attrition?
-I was running my own music fanzine here in Coventry, Alternative Sounds- a punk/post punk magazine running from 1979-81. Inspired by punk, I'd always wanted to create my own music, despite being a non-musician. I just had things that were needing to be said...
I started ATTRITION in late 1980 with my then girlfriend Julia, and my brother Chris who was quickly replaced by Julia's brother Ashley (the classic ATTRITION line up which lasted until 1984.) We started with guitar/bass drums in a kind of anarchist post punk thing, but soon discovered the joy of electronics.
What kinds of things did you feel needed to be said?
-I think becoming 18 and getting out into the world I saw so much that is wrong with this society we inadvertently find ourselves in. I identified with punk rock. It was at the perfect time for me.
Do you remember the first electronic instrument/s you found? What was so joyful about playing them?
-I remember the first synth I ever played on- a Yamaha- can't remember which model. It was a friend’s band called God's Toys here in Coventry, 1979. It was magical, the sounds it created, like a window on another world. I wanted one…
What advice would you give to new artists?
-Believe in yourself. Do whatever you want to do. Take no notice of the distractions or occasional detractions. Listen to people whose opinion you value but ultimately do it yourself. There is nothing else that matters.
Were there times throughout your career where you confronted distractions or detractions? What were they, and how did you regain focus or overcome them?
-We all find ourselves up against far too many problems at times. It’s how we focus and overcome them that is the key. Of course it’s happened many times… I have thought of giving up music, but I've never found anything better to do, and I love it.
Are there any particular bands that influenced you?
-I started to make music after punk rock changed my life in ‘77/‘78. So many bands- from the Sex Pistols to The Clash, to Crass- were a big influence politically. Musically I was more inspired by post punk. Joy Division. Magazine. Cabaret Voltaire. Early Human League. And on and on… I still feel influenced by art and music today, although most of my inspiration for my music comes from my everyday life and experience.
Can you tell me more about how punk rock changed your life? How did the emergence of these bands impact you personally, artistically, or politically?
-I can vividly remember hearing The Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the UK" on Radio Luxembourg on a crackly transistor radio in late 1976. I was blown away that music like this was being made- music that dared to talk about real life. In 1977 the punk scene exploded here and I immersed myself in it. I discovered like minded souls.
What kinds of things- certain sounds, images, patterns in nature, city life, or imagined- inspire you to make music?
-It is a bit of everything, a lot of people- how they are, how they talk, how they think- how society seems to work, how religions work, feelings of spirituality, humor, anger, love. Everything and nothing…
Do you have any formal musical training?
-Not at all. I started out as an art student, occasionally I go back to painting. I see music in terms of pictures to this day (one reason I also love composing soundtracks). I've never learned a traditional instrument but have been immersed in electronics and music production for 40 years now.
When you paint, is it generally more abstract or figurative? Are there certain colors, shapes or themes you find yourself going back to or seeking out in your paintings?
-It's a mix of abstract and figurative. I've always been a big fan of Dada and Surrealism, with some pop art and Renaissance art in there too. Similar themes to my music and lyrics in many ways, perhaps a little more cerebral. A lot of my old paintings later became album titles (A Tricky Business, 3 Arms & a Dead Cert, The Hidden Agenda…).
What were the initial public reactions to what you were doing?
-For some reason people thought that early ATTRITION was weird- we didn't think it at all at the time. It wasn't too easy playing the local rock pub scene in those early days, but we eventually met like-minded people and once we started releasing records and touring into Europe in the mid eighties things got a lot better. The world was changing.
Who were some of the like-minded people you met in the early days?
-There was a scene here in the UK in the wake of punk- post punk or industrial/experimental, whatever- it had hardly been pigeonholed at that point.
There was a music column on this burgeoning scene in UK music paper, Sounds, at the time: "Wild Planet'' written by Dave Henderson. We met a few of the other bands that would feature in this- The Legendary Pink Dots, Portion Control, Coil etc, etc… good days.
How do you approach lyrics? They’ve always been very powerful.
-I always try to note ideas, and then when I write music I find the sound in the music can inspire words- a harmony of sorts. I’ll spend hours listening to the music on loop and scribbling words, and sometimes having to alter the music when it just doesn't click for me. It’s very much an organic thing- I don't usually have a subject in mind but write as I think or dream...
Can you pick three of the songs on the album and explain the origins and meanings?
“The Silent Mind” (1993)
Dying for love
And this kind of fire inside
My blood is blind
I'm dining on a silent mind
And several other friends of mine
-I've always loved those words. I was looking for something that wasn't there, not at the time.
Do you know now what it was you were looking for? Did you find it?
-I have a feeling I know what I am looking for, but it is a bit like rainbows; they move as we move, we see them from a distance. I’m still looking...
What does it mean to you to have blind blood?
-My blood isn't blind... the fire inside can be blind at times. We need to work with it.
“To the Devil” (1989)
Walk on water, say hello
God only knows and should be shown
It's so much better
It's so much better with the devil you know...
-A little talk on power and spirituality and the music business.
Tell me about your idea of God or spirituality.
-I believe we are all God, we just have to find that in ourselves. Meditation, maybe prayer, music all helps. We can sometimes touch God that way. Religions are other peoples’ attempt at doing the same, unfortunately corrupted by fear and greed in so many cases.
“Acid Tongue” (1995)
I’m kicking holes in Heaven's gate
It keeps me young
And picking bones from empty plates
I'd hazard one
Acid tongue (I said Heaven)...
-A realisation of destiny, or at least finding a way out there...
Thank you for the interview.
-Martin Bowes, Coventry, England. 2022