Zeb: Can you introduce Djevara, and tell us a bit about the background of the other bandmembers?
Anté: We're a three-piece hardcore alternative rock band based in London, England. The other members are Geoff Courts, who's a guitarist-cum-Tai-Chi-nut who also captained The Low Fidelity Disconnect arts project we ran in a North London warehouse for a few years, and drummer Malcolm Gayner, a sound engineer by trade from Kent who also runs festivals in his spare time. My enigmatic younger brother Tose has also been playing with the band for the last couple of years, helping us fulfil our touring duties. All four of us were involved in writing and recording the album. Djevara is actually about more than just the music though, and we’ve always been running events and trying to generally support a creative, underground arts community.
Zeb: You're the founding member and main protagonist; how did you go from being a spoken word artist to forming a punk rock band?
Anté: Well, yes, it's definitely my fault! *laughs* I feel like I have to go right back to explain. I mean, I started life fulfilling an infuriating cliché - the son of African immigrants, born in Glasgow, bred in London, abandoned by a father and brought up by a tough, hard-working mother in one of the most notorious parts of North London; one of my earliest and most pervasive memories is of all of us running for our lives from a knife-wielding National Front or whatever nutcase shouting "Go back where you came from!" on a rough Tottenham estate at age six or seven. I was getting suspended from school and into trouble a lot; it didn't look good. Now, I'd always been painting and drawing, but an insightful teacher realized I was just bored and got me into books and soon I was writing stories and poetry and performing spoken word. It got to the point I was this kid getting published and winning prizes. Then one day a friend played me some punk rock and it blew my mind. I marched into a music shop and bought my first acoustic guitar.
Before this, stupid as it sounds, I kind of felt like you needed to be a 'real musician' or that you sort of needed 'permission' to make music. I didn't realize that you could just get up and play, even if you weren't that good technically, and it was fine as long as you meant it. In fact, it was better because you meant it. It's the kind of idealism you probably need to be just such a naive, fresh-faced teenager to believe in and fall in love with. As soon as I could I put together a motley crew of green-as-grass players to form "SUCK", and the rest is history. Well, our tiny little corner of history anyway. The romance continues...
Zeb: This is your fourth studio album. What is the significance of this one?
Anté: This album marks the 10th anniversary since the release of our debut, "God Is White". We've been through a crazy amount in that time. This record reflects who we are now, and is our 'thank you' to all those who have supported us over this time. We're obviously quite different as people since our first album, and half the line-up's changed since then, but it's interesting that in many ways the spirit of the band is exactly the same.
Zeb: The album is called both "VIVA!" and "PUNK IS NOT A SOUND"?
Anté : Yes. I'm really into 'duality' and schizophrenia at the moment, so the concept came quite naturally. I usually have a whole artwork concept which works and plays with the lyrical themes explored in the musical side of the record, so - hopefully *laughs* - this will all make some kind of sense when people have the whole package. I've spent hundreds of hours on the artwork concepts, photographing, researching, painting and everything, so I hope so! It should help explain the mess inside my head, at least when combined with the noise that we make together as a band.
Zeb: I understand an integral part of the band’s ethic is the concept of D.I.Y. How did this affect how you approached the album?
The album was recorded down at The Cove Music, a studio built from the ground up in a shed at the bottom of a garden in Brighton by Dave Hollingworth, who's an absolute genius. And old friend. Fans helped the band to raise the initial funding for the album just as they did for our debut, though this time round via a successful Kickstarter campaign. It's funny, because this has become so normal now it's almost unremarkable, but I remember vividly that when we were asking our fans to help us raise the thousands needed to set up the label for our debut, most of our contemporaries in underground alternative rock were bemused and still desperately trying to "get signed and make it" - as opposed to punk/post-hardcore scenes which have always been self-financing. So it was weird, because while we really had more musically in common with the former, we felt much more in sync with the ideals of the latter. It's vitally important to us to have complete free reign over how our music is created and captured.
Zeb: Djevara are often labelled as a "political band". What does that mean to you, and what are the themes of the songs in this album?
Anté: It's funny, because I never set out to start a 'political band', and I wouldn't have said any of the original members would have described themselves as particularly 'political' (in the sense it's normally meant). They shared a general concern for our common humanity, like I hope most intelligent people do, but they certainly were not activists.
'Just write or play what you feel', that's always been the only rule. And this definitely true for me, as the lyricist. To be honest, I think 'The Personal' is 'The Political', and vice versa. I live as a minority in my own country. When someone like me reads about, for example, yet another innocent black man killed in police custody*, I actually can't dismiss it as just another news story. When taken along with the fact that in the UK today such a man is eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than to be a casualty of 'terrorism', I take it very fucking personally. That could be me, my brother, my son...
How many times have you been "stopped and searched" or similar? Zero? *laughs* I couldn't tell you my own answer, as I honestly stopped counting literally years ago. The other bandmembers have their own different life experiences, of course. Actually, I belive everybody is in a minority of one. *laughs* Anyway, the point is that these life experiences affect you as an artist. It's not about spouting political theories or pretending to know the answers to all the world's problems, it's actually more just about an honest expression of these lives as we're living them now, calling spades "spades", standing up to and questioning authorities - our collective response to the world we live in, the things that are happening to us, things as we see them. So it's not just that the line is fuzzy - there is no line.
It's also not just about what I say explicitly in words in the songs; I think the very act of playing music that is honest and for no other reason than pure artistic expression, in this cynical and commercial age, is itself a political act. We're not interested in making a soundtrack that'll help sell Nokias, iPads or cars on TV ads, what we are interested in is sharing something real about who we are and what we feel... and I don't care if it sounds corny, it's true.
Having said all that, this is probably the most overtly 'directly political' record lyrically since our debut. I had started to get more metaphorical and obtuse after our debut, but I'm back in a place where I'm kind of wearing my heart on my sleeve again. So for example there's "Mexico", which was inspired by the shocking and completely senseless murder in Mexico City of the uncle of a close friend; it's a reaction to this and other devastating collateral in the fucking stupid "War On Drugs", a completely unwinnable nonsense with roots in early 20th century racism, wreaking havoc across central and South America. All this in contrast to the indifference of the users who finance this chaos, the cool 'party-animals' in Western countries like ours who use 'cocaine' as a party drug of choice. So there's that. On the other hand, there's "Mother", a pretty self-explanatory tribute which came about when I realized that the most requested song was a tribute to my late [step-]father. I realized it's also important to celebrate the living.
*'Black Boy' on Djevara's debut "God Is White" commented on police brutality and racism in London
Zeb: Do you worry about being written off as just a British copy of "Rage Against The Machine"?
Anté: We used to play a game on tour - we lost if the DJ, having heard the soundcheck, played RATM before our set. We tend to win more often than not nowadays. *laughs* Don't get me wrong, I love RATM and I'd be the first to admit that my voice shares some characteristics with their vocalist [Zac de La Rocha], but the truth is I hadn't even heard of them when I got into punk rock music and we're definitely much more directly influenced by bands such as Fugazi, Refused, The Prodigy, Every Time I Die, etc. The fact is, we're a British band and so of course we've completely different influences, culture, life experiences and expectations, and this is reflected in the music. But yes, it's true that we remind people of them, and they're pretty famous so perhaps it's inevitable. But... people seem to forget that, from my perspective, he [Zac] just happens to sound a bit like me sometimes! *laughs*
Actually, what I do find irritating and even a bit insulting is the insinuation that any band containing an "angry black man" and making a defiant brand of rock music is merely a copy of the one popular, mainstream band the 'journalist' has heard of that has the same [elements], ignoring almost every other element or nuance of the music or message itself, or the much more appropriate references to loads of underground punk and alternative stuff. The same obsession with surface aesthetics has even seen us compared to Block Party, Skindred, Bad Brains and Living Colour in the past. Go figure.
Zeb: Ten years is a long time for a band to exist, but despite radio airplay, festivals, constant touring and a loyal, hardcore fanbase across the European continent, Djevara still seem to be very much an underground band. Do you ever wish you had become more successful?
Anté: It depends what you mean by 'successful'. I think every artist wishes to be able to take what they do to the widest appreciative audience, and it would be great to never have to play to just the sound engineer again - although that was a good show *laughs* - but we've never prioritized anything higher than our integrity. If success means little more than somehow brainwashing enough people via mass marketing campaigns and payola in it's modern form into financing our 'musical career', we're not interested. I don't judge those that do it, to be honest - this "selling out" accusation is always hypocritical because almost everyone is somehow selling out and I can't blame musicians for wanting to be more secure in a very insecure world - but for us, there’s enough compromises and restrictions already, so playing our music on our own terms seems like the last opportunity to truly freely to express ourselves without judgement. Well, apart from those reviewers we talked about earlier, of course. *laughs*