Earlier this year, following a four-year hiatus, The King Blues announced via social media that they were “back and pissed off again”. Within a remarkably short amount of time since announcing their return, a new EP entitled ‘Off With Their Heads’ surfaced only to be banned from both Facebook and ITunes as well as a slot supporting Enter Shikari on their Stadium tour. Having never been a band to shy away from controversy this new release was no exception, despite the added difficulties to ensuring its release. We caught up with Itch, the main man behind the operation that is The King Blues, to discuss why their return is so important now more than ever as the world plummets into political turmoil.
When asked about the motivation and inspiration to restart the band, it seems Itch has an entire arsenal of reasons to return to music as ‘pissed off’ as he is. “I found myself very inspired to write about how dire things were getting politically. It felt like there was a real war on the poor happening and alongside that people seemed to be taking pot shots at each other rather than realising the enemy was above their heads as it were.”
In the four years away from TKB, Itch feels that there haven’t really been many other bands flying the flag for politically charged punk bands. “I haven’t seen any political bands come through that I genuinely believe in which was a little disappointing” and “what I’d witnessed ranged from halfhearted attempts at having something to say to posh kids fetishising being poor and it left me a little cold”. That being said he also adds that he’s “sure they’re out there” and that he “just hasn’t found them” but it’s the reason why he shares with us his inspiring philosophy of “if you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s best to make it yourself”.
“If you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s best to make it yourself”
During the band’s hiatus, Itch recalls spending some time in America immersing himself in the underground hip hop scene. Although he claims to have ‘loved it’ and that he ‘learned so much’ from the experience, he soon realised how much he missed making punk rock. In what seemed like a lightning speed turnaround, The King Blues had written, recorded and released a new EP with next to no funding and released it via their own record label ‘Meatball Records’. “This was a real passion of mine so we scraped together whatever we could find down the back of the sofa to get the recording together and the producer worked for free. I think it took about ten days in all from deciding ‘OK, we’re gonna do this!’ to writing and recording all the songs. We set up Meatball Records (named after my late dog) and as we had full control of it and zero budget we had no need for radio plugs, press people or anything that usually holds the process up. It was a case of let’s just get this out there and see if anyone cares.” And clearly they did as the EP immediately grabbed people’s attention but not all of it entirely positive.
iTunes delayed its release date and Facebook outright banned the accompanying music video. “It took a lot of fighting to get iTunes to finally agree to let us put the EP up and Facebook too.” Despite the zero budget that meant there was a lack of major promotion TKB relied entirely on word of mouth and the controversy it caused to promote the release.
” I have one leg in the punk world and one in the hip hop world anyway so it just seemed like a perfect fit.”
Since the band called it quits back in 2012, a lot has changed in both the world of music and politics. For a band as politically charged as The King Blues music can often be a gateway for bringing to light some of the more challenging topics in the news on a slightly more accessible level. We wanted to know how things had changed and why their return is so relevant. “I think young people are certainly more interested in politics now which is amazing. We started out as a very young group of idealistic kids when there was a threat of us going to war in Iraq, we genuinely thought we could stop it with the power of music. It’s not something I’m ashamed of saying even now because that came from the heart.”
For years music and politics have gone hand in hand as well as opposed one another. With music having played a massive role in many political movements, it seems that it’s needed now more than ever what with current affairs. “Music unifies people in a way nothing else can, it lets us remember the love and how that feels in what can be a cold and lonely world. Protest without music would be a very dull place indeed. Personally, I don’t believe in politics
or in the political system, I’ve always abhorred it, what I believe in is love, and the coming together of people doing positive things.”
“What I believe in is love, and the coming together of people doing positive things….”
Recently the Western world has undergone some serious changes both in the UK and overseas. Here on our home soil we’ve had the EU referendum as well as another unelected Prime Minister taking up residence at number 10, and overseas there’s the Presidential election which has also caused a stir of uncertainty. When asked about his reaction to these recent events, Itch had some wise words to share regarding the way we report and receive our news. “I see on social media sometimes people posting news articles that they totally disagree with in shock and belief, not realising that the news articles are designed to be shocking and sensationalist in order for you to post them in disbelief, it’s a very strange cycle of misinformation and fear. Politics has changed in recent years; it’s become about click bait headlines over the truth. It just seems to be about trying to constantly take people down, never building people up and I find that sad.”
A lot of musicians and fans alike have also shown concern in that the result of the referendum will cause, or could lead to problems, regarding live music and touring schedules. Although the vote swung towards the leave vote, Itch remains hopeful that the music industry will survive. “It will definitely affect all industries I’d imagine, but I think at this stage the only thing that’s certain is that the future is uncertain….
Even with the leave side winning there’s talk of keeping the freedom of movement act. In terms of being in a band, it’s going to be a ballot just for getting visas when going abroad, but like I said, it’s still too early to know for sure. If you’re a niche band in America for example, you can tour that massive country and have your own little world doing it full time. England is a tiny place, we really need to be able to get to Europe and peddle our wares too. I think it’s just too early to say how this is truly going to affect us and I don’t want to add to the mass fear hysteria that’s already happening.”
In the late sixteenth century, English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon, claimed that “Knowledge is power”. This still rings true to this day when it comes to “self-education”. Itch elaborates on “learning not just to read the news, but how to read the news” and “learning that most of what’s written down is utter made up rubbish, printed for self-serving, self- promoting reasons and agendas.” Itch’s approach has always been centred around love and creativity and using them in positive, constructive ways for the benefit of others. “To me politics isn’t difficult, people will try and make it seem more complicated than it needs to be in order for you to leave the decision making to them. At the end of the day, you either believe in love of the people, or you believe in ego of the self.”
Despite The King Blues voicing their own political views and undoubtedly inspiring many fans with their work, both music and activism, Itch does feel that being a band with a political agenda can be limiting or cause tension. “If you want a music career, drop the politics. By the very nature it’s divisive, will put people off and you’ll find doors being slammed in your face. That’s just the reality of it. Not only that but you’ll have people on either side of the fence wanting one over on you, wanting to chop your head off or bite your ankles. It’;s not a place for the faint hearted. It’s a weird one, I’d never advise a younger band to be political unless they felt a raging passion for it. I think it can be quite obvious when it’s not from the heart.”
That being said, Itch has already mentioned that ‘protest without music would be dull’ so there’s definitely still room for more bands or artists with strong political views to get involved and try to make a difference. “If it’s genuine and you’re set on bringing politics into your music, then that’s just who you are. When it works though, and you manage to sum up the feelings of the disenfranchised, it’s special. There’s a place for love songs and songs about your whip (car), but there’s also a place for political songs from the heart.”
“There’s a place for love songs and songs about your whip (car), but there’s also a place for political songs from the heart.”
Itch goes on to describe how travelling and trying new things in the past four years has hopefully changed him for the better. “I never want to stop learning; I never want to stop improving”. One way in which The King Blues have been using their music to make a difference is by encouraging fans to bring items along to gigs that are then donated to local soup kitchens.
“It’s something we do at all our headline gigs and it’s been amazing. We’ll reach out direct to people who are giving up their time to feed other people who don’t have anything, I mean, how much more loving can your politics get than running a soup kitchen? The venues have been amazing, letting us collect tins at the door and the fans have been incredible, they’ll bring down food and sanitary products. It’s truly humbling that we, as a community, can help feed each other. I’d much rather have the food drives at our gigs that have proven to successful and help hundreds of people, than have everyone sign some petition that’ll probably get ignored anyway. I think it’s important for our sanity to focus on the positives and what we can achieve.” And the good news is that these acts of good will and charity are spreading as other artists have since contacted Itch to explain how they’ve followed in his footsteps.
“I know a girl called Miffy who does these tiny gigs in her hometown and still gives away all the cash raised to charities, I think that’s so cool.”
Since becoming homeless at age 13, Itch has always held homeless charities, shelters and soup kitchens close to his heart. His advice for what you can do to get involved and help out? “It starts with self-education. The most powerful weapon you have is your heart; your mind comes second. Let your heart lead and your mind will follow for the right reasons. Buy that copy of The Big Issue, donate to that shelter, by all means they’re great things to do, but first and foremost just be kind to each other, be nice. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in this country, that’s shocking! We need to just start being nicer to each other. Make kindness and not anger your default setting. It doesn’t matter the scale of what you’re doing, as long as you’re doing something positive, you’re making a difference.”
There we go. Positivity and punk.