Having exploded onto the UK rock scene way back in 1984 with their angry debut Vengeance, Bradford’s New Model Army have scaled the heights of chart success, ‘Top Of The Pops’, major labels and sold out tours. Defiantly independent and political, they have just released their 11th studio album ‘Today is a Good Day’ on their own Attack Attack label. It features twelve passionate anthems that cover everything from punk, rock and folk in their uniquely English way. After nearly three decades NMA are showing no signs of letting the bastards grind them down yet! Big Cheese spoke to their main man Justin Sullivan.
I always seem to see a lot of people wearing New Model Army shirts in New York.
“We’re not a big band in the States. We’re not a big band anywhere. We’re kind of a cult band everywhere. Wherever you go in the world, there’s clutches of people wearing our T-shirts. So we belong to clutches of people everywhere, you know?”
You’ve been going for nearly thirty years but the new album sounds really positive and fresh.
“People keep asking me this question: ‘How do you do it?’ I don’t know. It’s just kind of what we do. I think the reason why we got in a band in the first place, is to do with the fact that we love music. We just started to write songs. I went to see The Ruts and it was the best gig I’ve ever seen. It was like 200 people in a little pub in Bradford, and in that gig was everything that was wonderful, and terrible and brilliant and scary and everything about being alive…and I walked out of that gig feeling like all of my insides were coming out, like someone had taken a Brillo pad to my spirit and it was all fresh and gleaming. I remember that feeling. And that’s the template. When people walk out of our gigs, the intention is for them to feel like how I felt that night. Of course sometimes we’re great, and sometimes we’re less than great but the reasons remain the same. The songs are always about something. And there’s always stuff to write about.”
You’ve always had a really English sound from the lyrics to the emotion that you create.
“I think it probably is quite English but strangely enough, we’re not particularly popular in England – or I should say we’re not popular within the English media? The English are famously embarrassed by passion. They like their art to come with a great degree of irony and knowingness. If they get passionate, it’s like: ‘We all know this is a bit ridiculous, don’t we?’ The English sort of love people like Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker, people that are slightly ‘knowing’. We’re the kind of antithesis of that. We mean it.
Well you’ve always been pretty political, but what do you think of England now?
“Things go on and the same things come round. Politics is a dirty business. I’m interested in the world, and I’m interested in what’s going on, and power – how people handle power and how they try to achieve it and all the rest of it. The purpose of the band was not to push a political philosophy. I believe in vengeance and forgiveness. Music’s about emotions, and emotions can be contradictory. So we’re not afraid to contradict ourselves. Some days you feel something different from other days.”
Your fans are really important to you, and really get into the gigs in a special way.
“It’s weird. The New Model Army following is a strange phenomenon. And there’s some kind of belief that were some relic from the 1980s that are jolting out some ‘80s songs to another aging band of loyal followers and it’s really not true. Again, these sort of preconceptions that people have. The weird thing is, we had sort of a travelling following back in 1982/83 and it just sort of used to regenerate every five years. But the average age of a member of our audience is early/mid-thirties. And I’m fifty three! So the whole thing for following New Model Army has regenerated several times over. We did London, Cologne and Amsterdam and I looked at the set list. We did seventeen songs, and before we got to the encores, there was only two that were from 1980s. I can’t think of any other band from the 1980s that could get away with that. The people that come to our gigs accept that they’re not there to watch us play old stuff. They’re interested in what we’re doing now, and it’s an amazing privilege.”
A lot of my favourite bands are from the 1980s and a lot of them are shadows of their former selves.
“Well, over thirty years we’ve only had fourteen different members in the band, which is not a massive turnover. Just every now and again. I still believe in it, the same way I believed in it when I first started.”
‘Today Is A Good Day’ is out now on Attack
New Model Army tour the U.K this month
Eugene Big Cheese
‘No Rest For The Wicked’ 1985
“Thunder And Consolation’ 1989
‘Today Is A Good Day’ 2009
Without New Model Army there wouldn’t be…
Download the following:
‘Vengeance’. ’No Rest’, ‘Smalltown England’, ’Stupid Questions’, Green And Grey, ‘Here Comes The War’. ‘Sky In Your Eyes’, ’Mambo Queen Of The Sandstone City’