‘We fit in everywhere and nowhere’ – An Interview with Justin Sullivan of New Model Army

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As New Model Army get ready for their two months on the road touring their new album, From Here, fans all over the UK and Europe are also getting ready for a great show.  Before they kick off the tour in Southampton on the 8th October, we got to have a chat with lead singer Justin Sullivan about politics, the power of alternative music and what it’s like playing a set in a medieval farm.

Your show in Southampton kicks off a busy few months of touring – what are you looking forward to the most?

It’s always interesting when you go out to play a new album live, because the songs develop into something else on the road.  You record something but you know that when you get it on the road they turn into something else, they develop in the course of being played night after night.  And that’s always really interesting.

Have you played Southampton before?

Oh yeah, many times.  Southampton will be interesting in that it’s the first one, I’m very much looking forward to it but of course you don’t know how the new stuff is gonna work live.

You’ve had some festival dates during the summer, too.  How does this compare to touring with an album?

I like doing festivals, but they come in all shapes and sizes.  I think we did two extremes over the summer; one was a big, corporate, rock festival which happens outside Vienna the same weekend as Download, so it’s a lot of the same artists doing both festivals.  But it’s very corporate – big names, big bands, big security.  And I enjoy it, it’s a good opportunity to see different acts.  But it’s a little bit formal.  We also did a festival at the end of the summer, right up in the north of Germany which basically took place in a medieval farmyard.  Seventh century barns with a stage set up at one end and two or three thousand people and chickens and children and ducks running around.  And that to me is more of a festival, just that feeling of everyone being happy to be there and everyone being equal.  We also did a big gothic festival in Leipzig, which is one of those ones where a whole city is turned into lots and lots of different stages, and that’s kind of cool as well.

And obviously when you’re touring an album that’s a very different experience.

Yeah, everyone that’s there is there to see the band.  Obviously when you play a festival you know that most people aren’t there specifically to see you.  And it’s your show, and you can make it how you want.

What are your favourite songs to play live?

Our problem is that we want to play all of them!  But that’s quite difficult in an hour and a half set, so it’s about deciding what not to play.  I’m sure we’ll play all of them in the course of the tour.  Then of course when it comes to choosing old songs there are more than 200 to choose from so that’s quite difficult too.  I’m looking forward to the whole process.  This particular version of New Model Army is my favourite version.  It’s very easy to work together.

Could you describe the process that went into making From Here?

I think there’s two things, musically and lyrically.  [The producers] wanted to go somewhere with a big open room.  They discovered this extraordinary place in Norway that we went to.  An island in Norway.  Which was an extraordinary place at the end of the world surrounded by snow and rocks and ice.  We wanted to go for that big open sound with mostly clean or acoustic guitars.  It was very New Model Army in a sense.  We knew we where going to Norway and it informed the music.  It was an amazing experience, the whole process.

Then lyrically it fed into this as well.  We’ve written a lot of songs which are concerned with ‘us and them’, and this time with everyone screaming at everyone in the world there was a deliberate attempt not to write in that way and just talk about us, just to take a step back from all the little conflicts that are going on in the world and look at the bigger picture.

How much have your shows changed since the beginning of your career?

Not at all, in some ways.  There’s the mainstream and then there’s the music that people hear and exchange and love which is important to them, and that’s the whole non-corporate set-up.  And I don’t think that has changed much.  And at different times over the 40 years you get the feeling that people need it more or less.  When we started at the beginning of the Thatcher era there was the feeling that people really needed that gathering, to express defiance or even to say “we don’t see the world the way those fuckers do”.  That’s very much the band.  Like the last time we played in Poland was when the government were trying to pass a law to ban abortion, and all the women took to the streets in strike.  Now we’ve got that Brexit nonsense and the bloody Tories, and all the people who don’t subscribe to their nutty world view need to gather.

One of the things about New Model Army is that we aren’t really in a genre.  We can play punk festivals and metal festivals and goth festivals and folk festivals.  We don’t really belong in any of them but we belong in all of them.  So we’ve always attracted all sorts of different kinds of people.

Has that always been important to the band?

Yeah, it’s that complete creative freedom.  We try to do something that we think is good, and we’re not too concerned with how other people interpret that or what genre they try to put us in.  Genres are a bit artificial anyway.  We fit in everywhere and nowhere.

New Model Army are playing the 1865 in Southampton on Tuesday 8th October.  Tickets are on sale here.

 

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Records Editor 2019/2020. Second year French and Spanish student. Always going through some kind of music-based phase, frequently crying about The Cure.

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