We talk Croydon, creativity and the future of the music industry with Bugeye

Since resurrecting their mid 90’s incarnation, Bugeye have returned to create driving, infectious anthems that fuse elements of punk, pop and disco. The quartet of Angela Martin (vox, guitar, synths), Paula Snow (bass) Grace Healey (keyboards) and Kerry Smith (drums) release their latest single Disco Dancer December 7th. We caught up with Angela from the band and talked about where they’ve been, where they’re going and how they get there.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Angela. First of all, I wanted to talk about Croydon. I know that you’re not actually a native of Croydon but you’ve settled there. It’s really one of the UK’s un-sung musical Meccas.

Absolutely. I mean you don’t even need to look that far back to just see the historical relevance. Not just in music but in literature. I found out recently, this is where Arthur Conan Doyle moved and wrote all of the Sherlock Holmes adventures. My partner is from Croydon and when we were looking to move in together, it was “Come to Croydon! Come to Croydon”. I followed all those negative connotations. Croydon Facelifts and all of that. I’d never been, so I shouldn’t really have thought like that. Then I spent time in the area and if going to live somewhere, I need to know a bit more about it. I’m a bit of a fan of history so I started looking into a few things.

Croydon School of Art is where Malcolm McLaren met Jamie Reid and together they brought us the Sex Pistols. It’s the birthplace of The Damned. Peter Grant who managed Led Zeppelin lived here. Even while he was managing Led Zeppelin and a multi-millionaire, he still lived in Croydon. Ray Davies went to Croydon School of Art. That’s just a handful. Just looking at the history of (what had changed to The Blue Orchid) The Greyhound music venue.Which was one of the hot venues on everyone’s tour schedule back in the day. They had The Cure there Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks. Over time that’s declined which is quite sad and hopefully that’s coming back to the area. A bit more focus on live music. But yep, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the area. So I’m Croydonian and proud.

Do you find that the essence of the place itself provides you influence or is it just a great place to live?

It’s a complete melting pot. It’s this fantastic place to live. At one end you’ve got the Grime scene coming very much out of West Croydon. You’ve got a whole load of gentrification coming on, while you’ve still got the likes of Surrey Street market. Which is a traditional fruit & veg market. Next to it, they’re building a massive Westfield. There’s all these expensive flats going up, yet there are still loads of housing estates. It’s every kind of culture, any type of food you want to get, you can. It’s just a complete mix of people from loads of different backgrounds and that’s really inspirational. Especially so, being here at this time. When the last time they had such regeneration was actually back in 70s at the time of punk. So it’s kind of come full circle again. It’s a good place to be.

Speaking of transition and change, Bugeye first formed in the early 90s. What was it that caused the hiatus and what was it that brought the project back together?

Yeah, we were youngsters back then! Well I guess we were incredibly young when we formed and things moved quite quickly. We got a record deal, we were touring, we supported The Cranberries at Wembley and getting a bit of attention. We were in it just as mates and hadn’t really considered the time that it would take from our lives. We all had visions of going to university and doing other things as well. I think we burnt out very quickly from a lot happening, before we realized where we were heading with it. So we decided to split and went our separate ways. When I say ‘went our separate ways’ we were still great friends. There wasn’t anything like that involved. Hazel went off and did a degree in Media and worked at MTV. I went off and studied music Paula did fashion and Jack’s a poet. We were a four piece then and we just went off and did our own things.

Me and Paula stuck together as writers and were involved with various bands. I was a session musician for a while. After just never really finding a band that we felt as happy in, we decided to revisit the Bugeye project. Got hold of Jack, our old drummer and started writing again. Jack was only temporarily back in the band, because he’s got two little kids and couldn’t commit to a touring schedule. We’re actually an all female band now. We recruited Grace Healy on keyboards and Kerry Smith on drums. We got a Keyboard player in just because I kept writing Keyboard parts and never playing them live because I’m the guitarist. So it was time to get a keyboard player on board.

One thing, which has obviously been a huge change in the music industry between when you first formed and now, is the advent of the Internet in the music industry. Has it been a positive or negative impact?

I think pros and cons to both sides. But I guess when we were young, starting out and didn’t really know which direction to take things. There was very little advice out there. It was just very difficult to get things done. Although, you didn’t realize how difficult it was at the time. You were operating blindly. You really did need to have a label or a manager come on board to do things for you. Because unless you work in the industry already, how the hell do you know how to do things?

Today, certainly we manage our own destiny.  We manage the band ourselves; we can put records out quite easily. If we think we need PR, we can pick the people we want to work with and have a healthier relationship. Where we know what we’re doing and have a bit more control. On the flip side of that, it’s not just us doing it. Every band out there is now out there. Doing it themselves, which is fantastic. So I guess, it’s difficult in a different way.  Just because there’s so many bands vying for attention in the same space, that you could say it dilutes it. But then, back in the day there were so many bands looking for a manager and only a handful of those were going to get picked up. So it’s the same thing but in a different context I suppose.

A study recently found women buy 50% of guitars but the majority does that online. Because they can feel intimidation walking into a guitar shop. Which are still very male dominated areas. Ernie Ball has now made the first mass-produced guitar designed by a woman and there are a lot of very strong female bands out there at the moment.  Do you think the industry is starting to change or do you still see the same barriers and patriarchy now was what you were seeing in the 90’s?

I think it has changed. Slowly but surely it’s changing. There’s still a hell of a long way to go. It’s still a case of, bands that have women at the front are referred to as a female fronted band. Almost like it’s a genre, which it isn’t. There is still the whole gimmick side to women in music and I’m not saying that’s women doing that. I’m saying it’s the view of the industry. I did an interview recently and someone asked me if I’d ever experienced sexism. Speaking to a potential manager for Bugeye, they at the time said ‘oh no, but we’ve already got a female fronted band. So, you know? We can’t have another one’. There is still that attitude out there. I would say this is a generational thing. Those people will grow old and die one day. I think there’s still a lot of Old Boys Club mentality in the music industry, which is changing slowly. New labels coming up, created by a younger generation that just don’t have that same attitude is a really important thing. They’re the people of tomorrow who will be running music industry in whatever shape it takes. I’m optimistic that things will change.

There’s this initiative to have a 50/50 gender split because there are still festivals out there without women on the bill. The amount of women held back from those big festival slots is quite astonishing. But a number of festivals have signed up and a number haven’t. It’s things like that help change. it shouldn’t be a thing you have to put out there, saying we want this to be 50/50. It should naturally just be a quite balanced mix. But until it is, these initiatives I think are incredibly important.

What advice would you give to young women starting out in the music industry today?

I think you just have to know who you are. I think the same goes for men as well. There are many bands I know with very strong identities. They know who they are, they know what they want. They don’t have to change the way they dress or anything like that to please anyone. They’re just making great music and surrounding themselves with positive forces. They work with people that are on the same page as them. Then on the flip side, you’ve got people that are just willing to kind of sell their soul a little bit and end up miserable. My advice would be, and I know it sounds tacky, but you do have to stay true to yourself, go with your gut feeling and surround yourself with good people. You know that’s it. Keep it fun. If it’s not going to be fun then what’s the point?

Saying about surrounding yourself with good people, it seems it took a very long time for the corpse of Britpop to decay. But coming out of that is a real resurgence going on, not just in bands but also in venues, promoters and publications. Doing things on a very DIY basis and creating a real energy. Is that a reaction to so much pay to play that went on in the early 2000s? Or do you think it’s the technology available at affordable prices?

You’ve got more people probably making music because of the accessibility of it. But I think this resurgence of DIY is reaction to arts funds budgets being cut, in music lessons in schools, all sorts of things. So the music industry is being killed by cuts here, there and everywhere. Venues are being sold because it’s more profitable to have them as expensive flats for example. I think people realize the importance of having those grassroots venues because that’s where everyone starts out. Without grass roots promoters, venues and publications writing about bands, then how does anyone break through? So it’s incredibly important.

You see the change in print publications for example, becoming an extinct beast. How do you put that online and actually make it profitable? Which has put a lot of big publications under a lot of pressure and they just focus on huge bands rather than the new music coming through a lot of the time. But that has paved way for people that don’t have those restraints to create fantastic publications online and really build a new version of the music industry. There are a number of promoters we work with who are incredibly supportive of bands. They work with them in a whole realm of different ways. So it’s not just writing about them and helping them put gigs. But they’ll help with sharing contacts or photographers. Bands are doing that as well. They support each other, because we realize that if we don’t do this, no one else is. So I think it’s a real sense that change happens if we all come together and help that change move forward. Because it’s not going to come from government help. It’s not going to come from the big labels. It’s not going to come from the likes of the NME. It has to come from the grassroots.

Bugeye has extremely strong visuals whether it’s videos, the stage presence or the artwork that comes with releases. Where do you find the inspiration and influence for the visual aesthetic of Bugeye?

Well I actually make the videos. I sort of taught myself how to do it, just because a film director ripped us off. He basically filmed part of the video and ran off with our budget and didn’t do anything with it. We had a releease coming up, so I thought. ‘Oh my God. Got to make video’. I guess the inspiration comes from never wanting to just do straight playing to camera. To always have something interesting in there that says something. If you’ve seen the video with the fake eyes, someone’s comment to me was I always close my eyes on stage and I need to open them more. It’s just a natural thing, so fine. I’ll just draw some eyes on. The inspiration for Is This Love came from Donna Summer and a reaction to that in a sort of dark, twisted way. Also our latest single Disco Dancer, the visuals have a nod to retro 80s and 90s stuff.  So I did a bit of research on the tones, colors and visuals that were happening around that time. I certainly took aspects of disco for the video like split screen stuff, lots of of 80s references in there. I try to make things that I would find that interesting. If it was just us just playing to camera, no I wouldn’t find that interesting.

Do you take the same approach to songwriting? Do you have a clear idea about what a song will be about? Do you come up with like a framework for the music first and then flesh that out?

How it normally comes about is I might read something in the newspaper. A story about something that I find interesting and think, Okay, how would that be expressed musically? I don’t mean to sound like a wanker saying that! One Day I’m sure I’ll write a book. But right now, I don’t have the attention span to do that. But I can with a song. So it’s kind of storytelling. I’ll have a feel I want to go for and I’ll do some music research, just to get some references. I’ll have a skeleton of an idea for a song. It might just be literally, Okay this is a verse. This is a chorus. I’m not sure how the rest of the song will go. But this is the kind of feel I’d like to have for it. Then we will work together on developing that. But it always starts with a basic direction and some of the key elements already written there.

On the flip side with Never Let You Go, which was one of our first singles when we reformed. That was very much the music came first. Jack couldn’t make it to rehearsal because he was ill. It was just Paula and I there and she started playing the bass riff. I wrote guitar parts on top and we shelved it for a few months. Then one night I came up with the rest of the song.

How is the writing going for the album? Is it is it completed yet? Or are you still working away?

We are taking a break in December and January from gigging, just so we can finish that. We do have a bunch of songs ready to go. But we’re revisiting them, obviously with new members. We want them to have their take on it too. So Grace needs to write some Keyboard parts and obviously now being four piece, we’re just exploring some new song ideas. But fingers crossed an album should be out in spring.

And past the album? What do you hope to achieve in 2019

Increasing the number of shows that we do, maybe exploring going to Europe next year. But I guess the big one for us is focusing on an album and tour after that. I mean we’re already thinking of concepts for a follow up album already. We’ve got to get this one out of the way so we can move on to the next one. Let’s say more of the same, so we can increase what we’re doing. Say more gigs, bigger releases and a lot more content. We’ve really enjoyed making videos and as you said, we do have this visual stuff. We actually want to look at creating some other content, which I can’t say too much about right now. Also next year, we’re part of running a music festival in Croydon called Cro Cro Land, which is across three stages.  We’re doing that with The Croydonist which is a local arts and cultural blog So we like to keep busy.

Thank you very much for taking time out to speak to us.

No worries thanks a lot!

Disco Dancer by Bugeye is released December 7th

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