Since releasing their first 5-track CD Full Flavour Behaviour twenty years ago, Swindon’s 2 Sick Monkeys have gained a cult following as they took their explosive DIY punk rock to underground venues across the UK, Asia, and pretty much all of Europe.
By the time of releasing their last album Into Oblivion in 2018, the band had played 1066 gigs in almost 500 venues. In 2022, they broke the almost three year hiatus for a few shows, including a Bulgarian gig at our DIY festival in Sofia. 2 Sick Monkeys are Pete Butler and Fred Nus, and they were kind enough to answer a few questions before the festival.
Hello Pete and Fred, great speaking to you! Now let’s get to the basics. What was the reason and motivation for creating 2 Sick Monkeys? What stands out in your mind when you reflect back on where you started playing with your previous band in 1987 and where you are now?
Pete: It’s great to be speaking to you too!
Thanks very much for the interview, we really appreciate it and can’t wait to come and play in Bulgaria for the first time!
2 Sick Monkeys started when I said to Fred, sometime in 2000, that I had a few new tunes and asked him if he wanted to have a jam and try the tunes out. He said ‘yes’ and we started jamming.
We used to play in a band called Cut Throat Razor (1987 – 1992) but we hadn’t played together since and as neither of us were in bands at the time we thought it’d be fun to blast out some tunes. Originally I played guitar in Cut Throat Razor but I was now playing bass. I don’t think we had a plan to start another band, it was just a drummer and a bass player jamming a load of instrumentals but this led to our first gig a few months later (December 2000) playing a few instrumentals at a drum clinic that Fred was co-promoting (featuring Darrin Mooney from Primal Scream and Colin Woolway).
After a short while Fred would bring some lyrics along and we started turning some of these instrumentals into songs and within a year we had enough songs to start playing gigs.
The first three or four years of gigging were quite relaxed but after that it started to get a bit crazy, haha. I guess the main difference between 1987 and now is that we can actually play our instruments, also the advances in technology that makes recording a lot easier and cheaper (which definitely helps DIY bands) and, of course, the advent of social media made it a lot easier to get our music heard by more people and easier for potential promoters to hear us and decide whether they wanted to give us gigs or not.
I still get freaked out by the fact that our music can be listened to by people in Brazil or Japan or Germany or Bulgaria! When I was a 15 year-old kid wanting to be in a punk band, the thought that people so far away would be able to listen to our music or come to our gigs was a total dream…it still blows my mind!
Fred: Pete bought a bass guitar in either 1999 or 2000, and was jamming around. In the summer of 2000, I think, he asked if I wanted to have a jam and work on some songs. I’ve still got some very early 2 Sick Monkeys on tape somewhere so I’ll have to see if any of those early jams made it into actual songs.
What stands out for me is the way we still react musically together. We both instinctively know when the music needs to change speed or change dynamically. Even when things go wrong on stage, or we are jamming onstage, we both have an idea of where to go next.
You’ve played more than a 1000 gigs all over the world, being almost constantly on tour for 15 years. How do you define DIY punk after all this gigging and what have you learned from being on the road? Maybe share some interesting tour stories as well?
Pete: DIY punk is the best! There’s such an amazing community of people spread out all over the world that helps each other, helps bands, labels and venues, helps so many good causes and offers solidarity and support to (and for) people and animals. For the ones that don’t always have a voice. It’s a genuinely great thing.
The ‘normal world’ could learn a lot from the DIY punk scene. In terms of playing gigs it has literally been the best twenty years of my life! Getting to go to so many different places (some good, some bad haha) and meet so many lovely people, have drinks with them, be welcomed into their homes, their squats and their scenes has been brilliant.
And to know that our music or our gigs have made a few people smile over the years makes me very happy. I think the main lessons I’ve learned from being on the road so much is to always be nice to people, appreciate the things they do for you and don’t be a dick.
Tour stories…hmmm…the 2SM / Dead Subverts Euro Tour 2009, three weeks across Europe, playing two sets each night as I played in Dead Subverts as well (with Matt and Bo from The Something Somethings and Pumpkin Records). So much booze was drunk on that tour, it was hard to go back to normal when I got home, haha.
We had some people come up and rip our shirts off while we were playing in Czech Republic on that tour too. We had a couple blokes come up on stage in Germany once with garden tools and they started air guitaring with them. People trying to steal the van in Lithuania, also Nazis in Lithuania. John Wright (drummer for NoMeansNo) carried my bass out after we supported them in Manchester and I shouted to Fred “I’ve got a new roadie!” People making us cakes! Waking up after a gig and while I was asleep the people in the house we stayed at had drawn a full beard on my face with a sharpy and drew some new tattoos on my leg. I will probably think of some better ones after I’ve sent this, haha.
Fred: Things are so much easier if you are nice, turn up (hopefully on time) and have a good attitude. Everyone has the same aim of creating a great show. There was a gig in a small town in Germany. We played the local community hall which was actually quite large, had a big stage. We turned up, and there were no microphones or mic stands. Luckily, I had a spare mic in my bag, and had to gaffa tape it to one of my cymbal stands. So I played the set with only two cymbals. Also, the promoter wanted us to play for nearly three hours! So I sang two or three songs, then we had to stop, pass the mic to Pete and he would sing a few songs, stop again and pass the mic back and forth. I think we played everything we knew, including all the cover songs we knew.
Your latest album Into Oblivion was released as a double LP in 2018 with the intention of being your last release ever. Tell us about the songs, the lyrics and the message you’re trying to convey in these twenty tracks. Have you reconsidered writing new songs since then?
Pete: Yeah, when we were ready to record Into Oblivion we knew it was gonna be our last record and we’d written 10 new songs but we also had around 15 songs that we’d played live over the last few years but never recorded so we thought that we might as well record most of those too and, basically, make a bit of a monster. We’re really pleased with how it came out. Matt Martin, who recorded, mixed and mastered it, did a brilliant job. In fact he’s done loads for us over the years and never asks for anything in return….he’s the hardest person in the world to give money to! (laughing)
The songs, we think, are pretty varied there, which was deliberate on our part as we didn’t want to make an album where all the songs sound the same. Lyric-wise there are quite a few themes on there: mental health issues, selfish people who take advantage of others, mind games, sadness, murder, exploitation, war, propaganda, the treatment of refugees and there might even be a couple of silly moments on there too. I’m not sure if there’s a particular message, as such, I think it was just what we had going through our minds at the time. We were also really lucky to have quite a few mates get involved on some of the songs as well which definitely helped to make it a bit more interesting and varied for the listener (we hope!).
I’m still writing tunes all the time, probably have around 50 or 60 (I’m not sure exactly how many as most of them are in my head but I’ve done demos of about twelve and I keep coming up with more every time I pick up the guitar….of course that doesn’t mean they’re any good though haha). But I don’t think 2 Sick Monkeys will record anything else….although never say never as there are definitely around six or seven songs that we never recorded before so who knows what might happen in the future.
What did you do during the worst waves of the Covid pandemic? What’s your take on the last two years as a punk band who’s been constantly playing shows before the shit happened? Also, talking about a global pandemic and sick monkeys, does your name have anything to do with the movie 12 Monkeys?
Pete: Haha no, nothing to do with 12 Monkeys. It’s actually a lot more boring than that. I used to play in a band called Acoustic Junkies (yes, I know, shit band name!) and we were finding it hard to get a gig in a local venue because the owner didn’t like me (I was always drunk) so we decided to change our name to see if we’d get a gig. We changed it to A Few Sick Monkeys, so it sounded the same but was different and when me and Fred decided we were going to be a band I said “What about 2 Sick Monkeys?’ And then we were stuck with it haha
Covid didn’t really affect us as a band as we’d actually split up in 2018. We’ve been playing a few gigs since but not very many, only around five or ten a year, so quite a change from how it used to be. I kind of miss the madness of playing loads of gigs but I don’t think my body does.
Fred: After constant touring and working, the enforced break was actually ok for me. To be fair, we played our “last show” in December 2018. We did play a couple of parties for people we know, but no touring.
Do you think that benefit shows, supporting DIY physical spaces and solidarity actions are more important than ever in the punk scene? What are some of the political projects, venues or campaigns that you feel the most closely related to? Which aspects of hardcore punk culture do you feel most impactful on today’s society?
Pete: Yes, definitely. Anything that supports those that really need support or help can only be a good thing.
We’ve been really lucky to have played a lot of benefit gigs over the years including Hunt Saboteurs, support for Palestine, gigs raising money for political prisoners, safe spaces for victims of domestic violence, mental health awareness, food not bombs, food for homeless people as well as gigs for venues that have been threatened with closure and squats that have been threatened with closure. Doing whatever you can, it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, is what everyone should be doing.
Your music is often compared to a wide range of influences, from Rudimentary Peni and NoMeansNo to Leatherface and Green Day. What are your real influences, are there any lesser known bands that you want to talk about?
Fred: Those bands you have listed are all some of my favorite punk bands. But for influences it’s not just punk. To convey different feelings in music, it’s good to listen to as many different genres as possible. It will help you be authentic,and also help with coming up with new ideas. Personally, I like listening to all sorts, electronica, prog rock, ‘80s pop, blues, jazz, reggae, ‘50s rock’n’roll, dubstep, ska, ‘90s rock, ‘70s singer songwriters, gospel, country, gregorian chant, to name a few.
Pete: Yep, those bands are definitely an influence and, of the more well known bands, I’d also add Crass, Subhumans, Discharge, Motörhead and Snuff. The one band that are not very well known but had a big influence on me were The Dangerfields. They’re from Northern Ireland and sound a bit like Zeke…great band! They would just drive everywhere and play gig after gig after gig and that was a massive thing for me and had a big impact and influence on our approach to touring. I think we may have played with them a few times around 2006 and after that the amount of gigs we started doing went crazy!
Also, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing with but whoever the band is that’s on just before us, they can be a big influence too or maybe inspiration. I mean, if they play a brilliant set then we know that we have to try and play as well as them or better, if possible.
And, like Fred said, I too have a fair few influences outside punk music. I love ‘60s Motown, early blues, some metal, Killing Joke, James Brown and, for some unknown reason, some really cheesy pop music (Daphne & Celeste, Right Said Fred, Shampoo etc..haha)
I was really heartbroken by the news of Grand Collapse’s Calvin Sewell passing, rest in peace Cal! So let’s talk a bit more about the current state of the punk scene in the UK.
Pete: Yep, it was really sad to hear about Calvin’s death, especially at such a young age.
We never really knew him as such, other than the odd “Great set, mate!” after a gig but from what we’ve heard from people that did know him and were friends of his, he genuinely seems to have been one of the good guys.
We were lucky enough to play with Grand Collapse a few times and they’re a seriously brilliant band. Ferocious, both live and on record, with not just fantastic music but brilliant and passionate lyrics too.
I think the UK punk scene’s doing ok at the moment. There are some great bands around right now: Rash Decision, Casual Nausea, Pizza Tramp, Bobby Funk, Nosebleed, Slagerij and many more. There’s also lots more women getting involved in bands, promoting, labels and zines and this can only be a good thing.
Sadly, where we don’t play so many gigs now I don’t get much chance to check out new bands as a combination of lack of money and anxiety make it hard for me to go to gigs very often. Before we used to see all the new bands at the gigs we played.
I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Comeback Clit at some point though. They’re an all-female punk band from Hastings and from the videos I’ve seen on YouTube I know that I’ll love them. Hopefully someone will book us a gig with them at some point in the future (hint hint, promoters! haha).
Here in Sofia, you’ll share the stage with a great duo called Feedbacker, who are also bass guitar and drums. If you have to write an article about 10 amazing punk bands who are only bass and drums, what bands would you include?
Fred: Monolithian are absolutely mindblowingly awesome.
Pete: Yep, Matt (Pumpkin Records) told me about Feedbacker and I’m really looking forward to seeing them! The world needs more 2-piece, bass and drums bands!
I think I’d struggle to find 10 bass and drums bands but ones that I’d suggest are definitely worth checking out are: Monolithian (as Fred mentioned, amazing band!), 51st State, Ghost Of The Avalanche, GagReflex, Clay Statues and, of course, Lightning Bolt (also, NoMeansNo started out as a 2-piece, bass and drums band so I’ll include them here too). These are all great bands and they all sound very different to each other.
Thank you, see you soon!
Pete: Thanks so much for the interview. See you at the weekend!!