Interview by Mike Noon.
The Ethical Debating Society is a three-piece noise-beast operating out of London. They currently comprise Tegan, on guitar and screams; Kris, guitar and melodic singy bits; and Eli on drums. As with other trios (Husker Du, The Gories and Babes in Toyland come to mind) they punch above their sonic weight. This will become clear when they play Indietracks in July. Expect nosebleeds.
How long have you been together? How did you come to form the band?
Tegan: We started way back in about 2009, when Lauren and I were mostly fantasising about how cool it would be to be in a band. We were telling people we were a band: someone called our bluff and offered us a gig. We had three weeks to write a set. We did it, and carried on from there. A few line up changes later, here we are!
Do you play much outside of London?
Tegan: A fair bit, I’d say. We’ve been to Edinburgh, and all places in between. We’re hoping to get out of London a bit more once we’ve got the album and we can share it with the world.
Kris: Manchester, Sheffield, Cambridge and Brighton come to mind. Ladyfest type stuff. We wanna play Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and everywhere else so book us!
Do you consider yourselves to be a punk rock band?
Tegan: In our ethics, for sure. I think a lot of the deal with punk was that anybody could do it. Pick up a guitar, have a go. Throw in a bit of politically induced rage, and you’re there. I reckon that would mean we count as punk, so, yeah.
Kris: We’re punk by default, just cos that’s our medium. We’re anti-rock if anything, but there are so many interpretations. I always liked that line “we oppose all rock and roll” – you can’t live by it but we all know what they meant. We don’t set out to be a “punk” band though – why would you? We like pop. We listen to everything.
Any creative activities outside the band? Fanzines? Fine Art? Other bands?
Tegan: For me, no other bands, but I have a dog, and I spend far too much time thinking about clothes and playing dress up. I’m making an effort to be out at more protests lately, which seems to take up a fair whack of time. Does protesting count as a hobby?
Kris: I’ve dipped my toe into music reviews, and written stuff for fanzines too. I amateur-DJ sometimes, and I write songs and play bass for an agitprop band.
Which bands do you look up to as an example of a good way to conduct the business of being in a band?
Tegan: Anyone who does it themselves, really. It’s inspiring to me to see bands with members who aren’t afraid to muck in. It’s not private jets for the likes of us, it’s mostly hard graft, repetition, and sleeping on floors. Loads of the bands we’ve played with, toured with, hung out with. Current favourites are Actual Crimes, Frau, Good Throb, and Dog Legs.
Kris: We’re big fans of Ste McCabe, who does good things for the right reasons. Likewise with Not Right. We love Slum of Legs and ILL for their avant garde feminist-collective awesomeness, the Tuts for their pop ambition, Colour Me Wednesday for their righteous soul, Comet Gain for their beat poetry and new bands like Charla Fantasma, PAMs, Fight Rosa Fight and Big Words who keep it real. and people like Seth Corbin and Liz Cronin who pour their raw hearts out into an acoustic guitar. Have to mention The Wolfhounds too, for coming back with such a brilliant set of songs, and all those Alan Brown bands that Trev Oddbox puts on who did it all 30 years ago and still sound ahead of their time.
What do you do when you’re not being The Ethical Debating Society?
Tegan: I’m a full time Del Boy, essentially, except with vintage clothes. You need a batwing 80s yellow leather jacket? I’m your girl.
Kris: I work for a maintenance company and Eli works for an airline. We put the glamour back into rhythm section!
By the time this is published, your debut LP , ‘New Sense’, will have been released on Odd Box Records. Can you tell us something about it? Is it made up of songs you’ve had for a long time? How do you feel about the LP?
Tegan: It’s a mix of older and newer stuff, some that was written when Lauren was in the band, and some very recent. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really glad it’ll finally be out there.
Kris: It’s also a mixture of personal stuff, and political-is-personal. There are crisis songs, but also stuff that’s a bit more sardonic. So in mood and sound I think the album is pretty varied and I hope that makes for a great listen for everyone. Some of the songs were originally bashed into shape by Rob McCabe (no relation) so he shares some of the praise/blame!
Have you been to Indietracks before? If you have, was it as a punter or with this or another band?
Kris: I have, two years ago, the year The Tuts pretty much took over; also Tunabunny, Lovely Eggs and Martha. Best festival I’ve ever been to by a factor of thousands, partly cos of the communal atmosphere, partly cos the dickheads stay away – a bit like a matured mini -Secret Garden Party without the Bullingdon element, or a lake, but with trains and owls.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re highly unlikely to be playing on a train, but out of the other three sites – the church, the loco-shed and the main stage – which do you think you would suit better?
Tegan: I think we’re playing the church, and there feels like there’s something quite appropriate about that. It feels a bit naughty…but I like the idea of it. I think usually you’d expect to find quiet, acoustic, pretty music played in a church, right? That’s definitely not us.
Kris: We want to see as much as possible. I reckon we could’ve done the main or any stage? our songs are quite BIG in a way. But it’s always partly down to what the crowd wants, and I think people probably expect the DIY types in the church!
Have you ever had to get to a gig by train, carrying all your instruments?
Tegan: Yes. Lots. It can be done. The biggest pain the arse is when you get there and realise there’s something missing that you desperately need, and can’t get hold of. There have been times when we’ve been running around the streets of Brighton, screaming “HAS ANYBODY GOT A DRUM STOOL?” about 15 minutes before we’re due on stage. Ah, happy days.
If you could leave people with just one feeling after you leave the stage at Indietracks what would it be?
Tegan: “Wow, that was good/bad/cool/shit. I think I’ll have a go myself.”
Kris: Energised, but a tiny bit challenged too. That thing where you’re not sure if you actually liked all of it or not. I’d rather people left moved in one way or another to pick up a guitar, or maybe a book – or both.