Interview: Septic Tank’s Lee Dorrian on How Music Shaped Him

The story of Septic Tank is a bit of a weird one. Originally formed during the tail end of a 1994 Cathedral rehearsal, the original lineup featured Lee Dorrian, Gary “Gaz” Jennings, Scott Carlson and Barry Stern paying homage to 1982-86’s greats of hardcore punk. Songs were written on the spot and forgotten as quickly. It wasn’t until 2013 when Dorrian, Jennings and Carlson had an extra day of studio time while recording the final Cathedral album, got producer Jamie “Gomez” Arellano to man the drum kit (Stern suffered post-surgery complications and passed away in 2005) that Septic Tank was revived. The result was a quick writing session that resulted in a limited edition, Japanese-only, self-titled 7”. If you’re keeping score, that’s two rehearsals in 19 years.

The third and most recent gathering took place when the lads took some extra time during Carlson’s visit to Birmingham to see the final Black Sabbath shows. The quartet cranked out an album in five or so days continuing to pay respect to the favourites of their youths: Discharge, G.I.S.M., Cryptic Slaughter, Minor Threat, Slaughter, Hellhammer, Motorhead, Septic Death, Anti-Cimex and the like. The forthcoming Rotting Civilisation is a culling of all the old records in their collections that are either going for inflated prices online or being reissued. The album consists of 17 admittedly unoriginal songs written and performed in tribute to a bygone era played by dudes with a ton of experience and a deep connection to the music of the era (i.e. they’re old).

All of the above was revealed to yours truly by Dorrian in a recent interview about the band and album, which is set for release on his Rise Above label. Towards the end of our conversation, Lee opened up about his connections to the hardcore punk scene and its lifelong impact. As a fellow fogey who has gone all in on the “music=life” idiom and has much of what’s swishing around in my brain provided by early listening habits, I found what he had to say not only interesting, but also quite introspective and relatable.

“Septic Tank is another release in a different kind of way. There are lyrics that are questioning the surroundings and society and the things that are going on in the world, but they’re not done in a blatantly left or right political way, they’re done in a more observational way. I don’t follow party politics and I don’t believe in organized politics or organized religion or any kind of shit like that. Personally, I believe in autonomy and personal freedom. They’re the kinds of things I like to express. We have elements of riffs and vibes that are borderline death metal and metal in general, I suppose, but the main attitude behind it is a punk attitude.

“From my point of view, I’m nearly 50; I’m 49 years old, and for all my life, since I was a young pre-teen when I discovered punk, I’ve always approached things with a punk mentality – for better or for worse. It’s probably got me not many places or as hasn’t got me as far as it could have, wherever that might be and it’s probably caused me a lot of obstacles in my life, to questions things too much and just maybe not doing things in a logical way for my own personal reasons. I mean, I’ve not been the most conventional sort of artist, if you want to call it that, over the years, but I’ve always approached that with a punk outlook. However people want to perceive it in their own way is up to them.

“I mean, I don’t have crazy coloured hair or anything like that, but everything I learned I’ve learned from records listened to while growing up from 12-13 years old onward. Crass, Rudimentary Peni or Discharge and a lot of the deeper sort of anarchist punk bands are where I got my education from, mentally at least. Although I’m not a 16-17 year old crusty punk anymore, my outlook hasn’t moved far. I’m not saying I haven’t grown up and taken on more aspects of responsibility, reality and society, the things that you have to face in order to get by, but I don’t think my outlook has changed that much since I was that age. A lot of my opinions are sort of the same, I maybe view the world with a different kind of cynicism but I just approach things the way I do. It’s as simple as that. I don’t know how to put it into words, except to say all that [laughter].”

Rotting Civilisation comes out April 13th on Rise Above. Take a listen to the self-titled 7”.