Growing old dis-gracefully: Discharge frontman Rat on why punk’s most explosive survivors can never die

There have been few bands who have had more influence over so many different scenes than Discharge. There was the whole first generation thrash bands, the likes of Metallica, who took time to broadcast their love for Discharge from metal’s commercial apex, and despite housetraining and declawing Discharge‘s furious, rough, on-take urgency, still nonetheless would have turned some folk onto the Stoke-on-Trent punks’ incendiary insurrections. Then there are the grind and hardcorekids, too; the whole D-beat scene, Dis-bands whose intent is badged bytheir name’s prefix with an aesthetic cribbed from Discharge’sof that black-white Xeroxed anarcho imagery: documenting their influence is stating the obvious. But it’s worth reiterating at a time when Candlelight are reissuing War is Hell (originally the bonus disc of the Tour Edition of 2002’s eponymous Discharge album) and 2008’s Disensitise, because both releases not only capture what the band is all about, they pretty much represent Discharge in 2011.
Fronted by Anthony “Rat” Martin since 2003, with longstanding vocalist Kelvin “Cal” Morris leaving after the release of Discharge, Discharge are always going to be burderned by their legacy. But they’re far from dead;the ostensibly metal sound of the late ’80s has been consumed by the world-eating punk D-beat that made their name. As Rat says, Discharge today have changed little in attitude, commitment and power.

How did these reissues come about and why now through Candlelight?
Rat: Well I’ve known [Candlelight/PHD boss] Steve Beatty for a long time. I mean, he once auditioned for the Varukers, years ago, and I met him at a festival in Leeds and mentioned that we wanted to get Disensitise relaunched, y’know what I mean? ‘Cos we’d done as much as we could with it and a lot of people weren’t able to get a hold of it. He said, ‘Well, we’ll do it’ and so that’s how it came about.

With such a legacy, do you feel that with Discharge there is that battle because people only ever want to talk about the older records, overlooking, say, Disensitise?
Rat: Oh yeah—of course. Yeah, you get that but we still do the old songs because they’re still good. I mean, we try to put a few of the new ones in, try and blend them in a bit, and obviously we want to make them work in the set as much as the old ones or else there is no point writing. We generally don’t put too many in but we’ve got so many to choose from; we only do songs that we enjoy. It’s not like a cabaret thing; we don’t just go through the motions: we do what we wanna do. We’ve always done that. And Hear Nothing… and the Nightmare Continues still makes the hairs on the neck stand up and that’s good.

Discharge’s sound has never been more relevant—it’s a band for hard times.
Rat: Oh yeah, of course. The way things are going at the moment, there are still people out there trying to destroy the world—there always will be, and these songs will still be relevant, somewhere in the world to somebody. And that’s important to listen to them. It’s good that we’re still relevant so many years later rather than being has-beens.

How full-time a commitment is Discharge at the moment?
Rat: It’s full on. I mean, we do as much as we can. People have got kids so we can’t go tour as much as we used to but we try to do ones over a short period of time that will benefit the band, whether it’s a gig in London, a festival, or whatever; we’ve got a limited amount of time so we try to make as big an impact as we can. We were going to go back out and do a European tour but we chose to go back to Japan this year. We went over there in 2009 with the Exploited and G.B.H. and we felt it was right to go back there now and do a headlining tour. We try to keep our fingers all over but we’re a bit limited.

It’s all about picking your moments and making the most of it.
Rat: Yeah, and it seems right to do it, ‘cos we went out there with G.B.H. and the Exploited for the first time with Rainy and Bones in the band. I mean, I know Cal and Garry Maloney had been out there with two other guys from some other band—I don’t even know who they were—and but was better to go out there with two original members in Bones and Rainy and make a good impression. Which we did; they asked us to come back for another tour. So yeah, the time is right. People are still very interested in Discharge over there; I was over there with the Varukers quite recently and every other patch is Discharge. It’s still exciting over there so we wanna grab that while it’s there.

What is a Discharge audience like these days?

Rat: It’s very mixed, all metal and punk kids, older kids and younger kids too. It’s very mixed and that’s good; the old-school crew go down there and can’t dance because they’re too fat and the young kids are down the front! You do get some of the older ones dancing; there was one down the front dancing and was like, ‘I’m 52 years old’—that’s brilliant! It made him feel like he was 16 again which is good because that’s how I feel, hahaha!

Ha! It keeps you young.
Rat: Exactly, they know they’re not 16 but it’s what they were brought up on, to see a band. We try to go out—I mean I saw Discharge long before I joined them—and make it just as powerful now [as it was then]. It’s important that we create that powerful sound, not going out old and decrepit. We might be getting on a bit but we can still give it plenty of power. Discharge always thrives on that. Every band thrives on power but Discharge even more so, the aggression.

Discharge were arguably the first to do it: how accidental/incidental was the collision of the metal and the punk?
Rat: Well they just wrote what they wrote. Metallica were always fans of Discharge—actually, when we played London not that long ago two of Metallica were at the gig, at the Underworld. I think it was Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett.

That must have been a bit weird.
Rat: I was just playing and my mate from the Varukers, Sean, his band Certified supported us and he was like, “Yeah, I saw them. They were right by the mixing desk.” Brilliant. They wanted to get some free t-shirts but the girl selling our shirts at the time didn’t know who they were and said they had to pay.

If anyone can afford to pay, they can.
Rat: Yeah, exactly, they could have bought the whole stall. She was right to do it because there were people there who worked hard for that money [for the shirts]. We would have liked to have met them but I was quite chuffed they were there. They seemed to be enjoying it, so I was told.

But setting out as a punk band, the metal part of the sound and the influence it had: was this just a case of the aggression tipping the balance?
Rat: Discharge never wanted to be metally, except maybe in the Grave New World era, which had nothing to do with Bones or Rainy really. They just wrote songs like “State Violence” and “Never Again” and that’s just the style they wrote in. Bones listens to hardly anything, and Rainy listens to a lot of jazz stuff so… but the combination comes naturally—there’s no preconception to “let’s make this metal” or “let’s make this punk”; if Bones comes up with a good riff in practice then… I mean he comes up with a hundred riffs but maybe two or three will jump out at you, and I listen to it as a vocalist, as a non-musician and say, “That one sounds great—let’s work on that one.” And we’ll work on it. It’s the ones that stand out, the riffs that he writes: two or three will just stand out more than the others and we’ll work on them.

Are you writing at the moment?
Rat: We’ve been working on some stuff. We’ve got four new ideas down. We’ve not recorded them yet. We’re on a bit of a break from practising—Stoke-on-Trent is quite a way for me; I get back quite late, y’know what I mean and I’ve got a bit of work on so we’ve not really done much. We’ve done a few gigs, we’ve got these re-releases and we’ve done a lot of interviews —it’s been more publicity right now, but after we get back from Japan we’ll get back to writing. You try to do everything but it’s really hard, y’know, something gets dropped; so we reissue Desensitise, War is Hell and do more interviews, concentrate on that and once that’s elapsed we can work on some new material.

Is it a case of life getting in the way?
Yeah, at the moment I don’t have the time to get over there—they live in Stoke and I live in Nottingham. We have so much to do that things fall by the wayside. Life in general; Bones has got his two kids, Dave’s got his, y’know, life’s there and you’ve got to carry on in your world—as well as your fantasy world, hahaha!

Both are equally important!
Rat: Yeah, you go on tour and have a good time and then come back and face reality, your bills mounting up, all that, you’ve got to start feeding yourself. It’s never far away [the harsh reality], it’s never far away and that’s a good thing ‘cos it keeps you in line.

Amen, and Britain’s a pretty tough place to live in at this moment in time.
Rat: Definitely. Yeah, and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it either. I mean jobs around here are hard to get; I’m a forklift driver by trade, and there used to be jobs in abundance but obviously if people aren’t making anything you don’t need many forklift drivers or lorry drivers, there’s a knock-on effect and I’m struggling to find work. I’ve never struggled to find work before. We’re lucky we’ve got an out, to get away from the harsh reality but other people aren’t so lucky. They’re looking at that harsh reality 24/7. But there will be light at the end of the tunnel, let’s not get too depressed.

Without committing too much one way or another, is it possible we’ll hear a new album next year?
Rat: I hope so. After we’ve done Japan—that’s the end of September to the end of October—there’s not that many gigs for us, maybe three or four in October/November so that’ll give us time to work on a few more songs. We’re going to do four at a time, lay them down on a rough demo and maybe next year do another four, take it a bit at a time rather than trying to do 15 songs at the one time—it’d be a bit hard to grasp as we don’t do that quite often; it’s time consuming, and money consuming. We’ve got to do it in stages of four; do four, four, then another four maybe.

What sort of work did you do for the artwork for the reissues?
Rat: Rainy did a lot of the artwork, he did the artwork for the original release of Disensitise with the TV screen, and the tower blocks and the smashed TV. We came up with that idea between us, because that’s where you get all your news from, the TV, and you get desensitized to it all, the killing, you just think, “Not again. Oh well, it happens all round the world—it’s reality.” But the other artwork, for the reissue of Disensitise, Candlelight did that, got the photos, hi-res, and it turned out quite well.

Yeah, you don’t want it being too pretty—you could give out the wrong message.
Rat: That’s a big part of the band—the artwork is an extension of the band in a way. I mean, we try to keep it as much as we can in that format, it works, we are a band that always does that powerful and extreme and that’s what we’re into. We play what we like to listen to and if I can’t enjoy our album how could we expect people around the world to like it? But yeah, we like the black and white—we might throw a bit of red in there, a bit of color, and it’s not that we’re depressed people but the artwork just stands out and it fits the band. It’s the whole package, you look at the record, the artwork; you know what sort of band it is from the cover to the music to the end.

Punk was always good at self-promotion. In the first wave it seemed as much about personalities but with the Discharge, UK82 stuff, the anarcho bands, there was more focus on selling the band’s message and politics.

Rat: Yeah, it just went with the band, and all bands had to look at their artwork to see what they would put on the cover and would catch people’s eye, to make them think, “Oh yeah…” and then get them to sink deeper into it.

Do you think the whole experience of extreme music and punk, from the record to gigs, has become too safe, too disconnected?
Rat: I’m not a fan of downloading. I mean if you download it and then buy the product, yeah, you can’t beat having the record. I mean a lot of people couldn’t get hold of the record, download it and then buy it later—it’s good. But you can have it on an mp3 or a compact disc and whatever but you can never have that feeling you do with vinyl.

As long as the gigs don’t lose their intensity and danger…
Rat: Hahaha, I don’t know about that, we played Aldershot on St George’s day at an army barracks and that was quite risky! It was all right, actually, it went all right; I mean one person gave us a bit of grief but it all got sorted out. It was just some old fat bald guy, I’m not even sure he was in the right venue. But no, apart from that there is a lot of young kids, a lot of young metal bands playing too and that’s a good thing to have that crossover, with more people getting into it. Times change, and you can’t tell who’s going to come to a show these days. It’s exciting. There’s not that much aggro like there was in the ‘80s with people fighting all the time. I think people have got more tolerant with each other which is good. Is life more dangerous than it was then? In certain circumstances it is, but in others it’s not. Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m getting on but I like to go to gigs and see them more professionally done, because you want to have the sound, you want have a good show. Money’s tight, and you want people to walk out thinking that it was a great gig.

There’s no better platform to influence people and to put your message across.
Rat: Yeah, I went to go and see the Blockheads ‘cos my girlfriend’s really into them, and they’re quite an oldish band, but I went to watch them, it was fifteen quid, and it was the best night I’ve ever had. They were enjoying it and it was a great night and that is what I want to impart to people when they come see us, to come out and say, “That was a great show, I had a great time”. We play for their enjoyment.

What’s exciting you in music at the moment?
Rat: I go to a lot of gigs around here and if I see a good band then great, might not be punk rock, but if you see a good young band you just hope they carry it on. It’s a long hard road but if you believe in what you believe in then do it.

What about the health of the punk scene?
Rat: I think it’s OK. It’s not the ‘80s but it’s never gonna be. It’s still there, and it’s always going to be there. Some said punk died in 1979 but not as far as I was concerned—I was just getting into it, and a lot of people were, a whole new generation came along and there’s always a new generation who want to take the gauntlet and get on with it, keep it exciting with the new breed, new bands putting records out. It’s neverending. There’s always going to be some rebellious young man out there! The rebels of a new generation who’ll go out and do their own thing.