STIG MILLER ( AMEBIX ) talks the old days, new projects, and raising energy through the riff.

Photo: Richard Parkhouse

The Amebix albums Arise ( 1985) and Monolith ( 1987) were two important recordings in my youth that, among other artists of that decade, steered me on a life long love of dark, primitive music, and their attitude as a band cemented in many of us the ideal of doing things your own way, and on your terms. It was fantastic to hear that they had reformed for gigs, and to go on to record the excellent Sonic Mass in 2011 ( which of course was an album on their own terms, so it was never going to sound like the first two albums ). Guitarist Stig Miller has had a busy time with life since then, but thankfully got back to crafting some demos in the last couple of years. After reviewing his recent split 7″ here, I was keen to know what else he was up to, and perhaps how he sees their legacy – this is a man whose old band logo is on tens of thousands of black denim jackets worldwide, after all – so sent him some interview questions. He kindly took time out from recording a new project to talk about the old days, about his approach to composing music – both then and now – his outlook on life, his new projects, and how he never wins on scratch cards….

Hi Stig, do you want to briefly say who you are for the uninitiated?

My name is Stig Miller I make noises on guitar ,I’ve been making noises since the late 1970s in various band situations .The first band I started doing was Amebix with my  younger brother and various friends in 1978 . In the late 80s I started another band Zygote with some friends , we only lasted a few years but we partied as hard as humanly possible in that time and had a couple of records and some fuzzy memories to show for it, nowadays I like to write music on my own , some of it I share with collaborators and some of it I use myself … 

We might as well get the fandom bit over and done with – I first saw Amebix at the Mermaid in Birmingham in 1987, and it was pretty intense – I was impressed! Do you remember much about playing there, and do you remember the scrumpy?

Yeah I remember The Mermaid well , 1987 you say ? you must have caught one of the last Amebix gigs from those times , we played there quite a few times before that .It was a great venue , the horrible wallpaper and the way your boots would stick to the floor stays with me , I was never a huge Cider drinker but could do a couple of pints before my stomach “rebelled” Amebix was always “intense” if it didn’t feel dangerous or a little bit scary it was a crap gig .

In the last year of school in 1985, there was a legend going around our tiny group of misfits that the guitarist in a band called Amebix had a guitar with only four strings on it and and a flanger pedal built into the body. I had no idea what a flanger pedal was but it sounded like my kind of guitar. Is there any truth in that?

I don’t know about the “flanger pedal “but the guitar with four strings on it sounds about right , sometimes it would be only three strings depending weather it was Giro week or not  hahaha ..

As a guitarist how did you take to learning the instrument in order to get to the standard for Arise and Monolith? I guess you must have had some inspirational heroes to emulate before forging ahead making music on your own terms?

I have never learned the instrument in the conventional sense of “learned “ there was no way of learning to make the kind of sound I wanted to make (particularly back then ) I did attend one acoustic guitar lesson in school in about 1975 where some Jesus freak teacher tried to teach us to play“Kumbaya”(shudder)and I thought to myself “I’m never gonna be Marc Bolan with this Cunt teaching me!” It put me right off “learning “ guitar altogether , I still don’t know the basics about guitar playing or the “rules” of music wich can be frustrating sometimes but other times I am glad of it because it forces me to invent new riffs or playing styles from instinct , things that are unique to me because they come from “within” rather than “without” .One of the benefits of not having any technical knowledge about guitar playing is you cant copy anyone else because you don’t know how, so you have to make your own style….anyway I would rather be really shit than really mediocre anyday.

You had a comparatively clean guitar sound back in the day, especially on Arise – many bands hid behind distortion but you seemed happy to rein back the gain and rely on brute power and riffing accuracy. Today, guitarists can agonise for an eternity over their ‘guitar tones’. I kind of dread to ask this, but – was it intentional, or were you just making the best use of the equipment you had?

Put it this way we didn’t have the time money nor inclination to worry about things like that too much .. guitar tones.. “is it loud ? does it feel good to play ? great ! lets record !” cant even remember what amp I used 

Do you ever listen to guitarists like Abbath from Immortal and wonder if he’s ever heard you playing?

No I’ve not heard them , maybe I should check it out .

Amebix’s music, by the mid 80s, was escapist and epic, with broad passages and long sections, and was, how shall we say, more spiritual than the punk it was associated with. What was fuelling it composition wise?

I can only really speak for myself here really but I do not remember anyone sitting down and discussing how to proceed with a song or piece of music /intro or whatever . We would jam ideas and it would just “happen “ you knew when it had “happened”and it was”right” because the energy in the room would change ,it would seem to be brighter and time would slow right down , you didn’t have to think, your hands would move automatically the music would play itself ,you feel you are channeling something powerful connecting to “source” or whatever you want to call it 

I seem to remember Monolith got a slating in the music press when it was released? It might have been the NME, or one of those metal magazines who were obsessed with ‘hair metal’ at the time. Did the album make the impact you wanted?

Well I guess it certainly made a positive “Impact” on the bank balance of the record company(s)that had been pressing and repressing  it for years whilst paying the band absolutely nothing ….. other than that I hope people got something from it because we never did ..but people still say nice things about it so thats all you can ask for really .

Punk in the South of England in the mid 80s seemed to have that dark pagan thing going on, especially archaeologically rich Wiltshire, what with bands like the Hippy Slags, Smart Pils and the various traveller / new age traveller acts and there was like an unspoken cult of ancestral worship going on in a lot of that art and a darkness /escapism to the music.

Its a West Country thing I guess , its not something I’ve ever had to consciously think about , you play music with other like minded people and if it works you make the “connection” your audience feels it and empathically amplifies the energy for as long as you can maintain the “connection” creating a huge energy loop …its fleeting but all potential is there …its a good thing 

I was in Holland in 1989 and got an excited letter from a friend saying she’d seen ‘Amebix’ at a festival. We eventually worked out she’d been ‘impaired’ and had actually seen Zygote. How many gigs did you do under that name? You moved pretty damn quickly and got the band together and a demo recorded, or it seemed like that to me anyway.

Well if it was Zygote we would have been “impaired” as well , that was how we rolled haha. Well I needed to keep doing something musically after Amebix split in 87 so did Spider so we started jamming with friends in Bath and started pulling ideas together along with George (Smartpills) and Tim (lately of Cross Stitched Eyes) although I am a pretty horrible singer so we split singing duties where we could , as far as I can remember we lasted from 88 to around 91 .. we had a laugh though toured Belgium ,Germany, Holland , Poland ..played festivals and gigs all over the UK  at a moments notice , some of the festivals we played at have become quite infamous over time such as Treworgy 89 “A dustbowl of death, drugs, dysentery, dirt and depravity” (google it ).

I’d been on the traveller field at Glastonbury in 1989 and from my perspective you could see that things were getting moody and it was on a downward spiral. How involved were you with the traveller movement, if at all?

The Green field ? yeah I was friends with a lot of the traveller people “Convoy” people 

and you are right it did start to get very ugly, constant harassment,a lot of savage beatings from the Police the “coincidental” influx of a lot of hard drugs and some genuinely psychotic and criminal people certainly didn’t help matters . but now look at things, Squatting is illegal and the streets are full of homeless people stuck in the City Prison , you cant get a vehicle and travel anymore its all locked down . it might have become ugly but at least we could move about the Country at one time and have some kind of community , we didn’t need to be software developers or rich to live “Off Grid “ 

Iggy Pop recently talked in an interview about the early punk rock scene in New York and how he felt that a point came when it was deliberately flooded with hard drugs, to an extent that there must have been some sanction from government levels. Tin foil hats aside, do you think anything similar happened in the 80s punk scene?

Absolutely !  I saw this happen first hand . In the late 79 -80 if you wanted hard drugs you had to know where to look ,you had to have connections and know people , it was a small closed off World , the drugs were strong fairly pure and not cheap, by about 81 -82 ish you’ve got ‘crews” turning up with kit bags full of cheap Smack from other towns , suddenly its everywhere ! in every squat or house in every street in every poor area ,social engineering and urban pacification blowback , tax free non traceable funds for whatever dark deeds you need them for .. 

You mentioned in a very good recent interview that you suffered from something similar to ADHD as a child, and schooling was difficult. How do you think that experience affected your life?

I hated school , eventually I just stopped going altogether , being told everyday that you are an “idiot” or a “waste of space” or that ‘you will never amount to anything” by people that seem to hate kids , because they’re lessons are boring lifeless and completely uninspiring …don’t get me started …the programming didn’t take with me.. the more they picked on me the less I gave a fuck .. ending up  in “Problem Child “School that  was a lot better actually , although I was still academically stupid at least they let you be a bit ..

Have you put brush to canvas again over the years?

I have started drawing a little again and scanning designs in for T shirts , I sell a few on facebook “Dissent Designs” 

I wonder if we are all just products of the era in which we grew up – there was a definite 80s sound with bands like Killing Joke about, etc that affected everyone to an extent, in the same way that everyone at some point in that decade had some kind of mullet hairstyle. Could you reinvent yourself and pull off a Country and Western album?

“Cuntry” maybe …hey I never had anything remotely resembling a Mullet !  how very dare you …

Amebix, Birmingham Mermaid, 86 I think. Photo courtesy of Paul Bates.

Have you heard any bands that have consciously tried to sound like Amebix?

Its not just the sound its the “energy” .. energy signatures are unique to certain bands certain personalities .. I don’t understand why anybody would try to sound like somebody else ..whats wrong with sounding like yourself ? that was what it was all about wasn’t it Punk Rock ?

Sonic Mass – did that turn out sounding like you always wanted the old albums to sound?

The old records are of they’re time, mixed by the band with an engineer in a small amount of time with limited recourses . With Sonic Mass I wasn’t personally at the desk  but I did hear and approve mixes as they were done track by track , and I was there for the initial Ruff Mixes and to put my ideas in so its ok with me .

I know you’ve been dealing with illness these last few years. How is that affecting day to day life and your outlook in general?

I was in and out of Hospital treatment for 7 years , I got very ill it was a very frightening and depressing time ,I was discharged from treatment two years ago so I’m feeling a lot better now thanks ..

Now you are older, are you relaxed with what you feel life is all about?

No not at all ..I hear people a lot younger than me going on about “Being Comfortable in they’re Skin “ or “Aquiesing” or “Mellowing “ but it hasn’t happened to me yet , in fact I find I get even more pissed off than I used to! as for “relaxing” forgetaboudit!

About the music you’ve recorded recently – how have you found the recent changes in the way music is made and sold; digital home recording, sites like Bandcamp etc?

Its a good thing and a bad thing, Bandcamp is ok  but I would like people to be able to be more involved I think ideally I would like to set up my own site one day (and not have Paypal fistfuck me out of a percentage every time I sell a track )

Rising Sun is such a good track. Knowing that recording is a massive PITA, how did you go about recording it? I assume it is programmed drums?

I have a little computer ,an amp a mic a couple of guitars , I just do the best I can with what I’ve got .. yes it is programmed drums and that is a pain in the arse , programming drums is boring a fuck ….

The track shows as a composer you have a clear overall vision. It must be nice to be in total control. I think the sound you captured is pretty much perfect. Are there any other tracks that you decided not to release? I can’t be the only person hassling you about this.

Well its been a steep learning curve thats for sure , I didn’t even have or use a computer until 2009 but I found the idea of being able to mix and record your own stuff really exciting . what I didn’t know I learned from tutorials on You Tube and stuff “monkey see monkey do “ easier for me to learn by watching than trying to read instructions . Some people (labels ) have shown interest in my stuff  so I’m going to record more demos and consolidate tracks and get my shit together ….

Is it true you are involved with other music projects at the moment besides what you have on Recreational Democide? ( Great name by the way! )

It is true but if I told you about it now I would have to make you sign a Non Disclosure Agreement on pain of Death , anyway I don’t want to jinx it by saying anything till its finished  …

You covered New Dawn Fades – The openness and emptiness of Joy Division compositions always struck me as courageous, maybe it so much easier to hide behind a wall of noise, rather than be exposed?

That was another good learning experience as that is the first time I have played anything someone else has written  In all fairness though I think my version is fairly noisy , helps cover up my singing hahaha 

Do you listen to any new stuff yourself? What are you playing, if so?

I’m always up for hearing something new but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of the stuff I grew up listening to as a lot of the new  music I hear seems to be lacking something, maybe its something to do with digital recording or everyone wanting to sound “professional” or over processing  I’m not sure what it is ..

Now you are older have you treated yourself to any nice guitars or music equipment?

I would if I could 

It’s interesting to see how people turn out. I look around at some of the bums and scruffy bastards I used to know – some of them are still the same, yet paradoxically some of them have become relatively successful, at least in the accepted sense of the word. Are you still in touch with any people from your old days? Are there any common themes amongst them?

Yeah I still see many of the old faces at the occasional gig , its good to see your friends succeed , whats the point of hanging around with people that don’t wish you well in life?  good luck to them I say .

Two time travel questions. One: if you could be young again, would you go back, trading what you know now, as the price? Two: if you could go back for 60 seconds, what would you say to, say, 20 year old Stig?

No I wouldn’t, I did not enjoy being “young” and had no intention nor expectation of getting “old “ either but I think that as long as you remain open and can assimilate new information there is no need to become “old “ if your mind gets “old” then so will the rest of you . 

I would say “You will never fit in , be proud of not fitting in “

How about the state of the country right now? Do you think when Nigel Farage talks about ‘normal, decent people’, he’s trying to tell people like ourselves something?

If Nigel Farage is a “normal decent person “ were all fucked .

Seems the Republicans are happy to let Trump carry on gaslighting American citizens in a bizzare grooming process. Do you have any idea what the endgame is?

When you have all the money ..power is your only motivation 

Are you still in Bristol? It’s a lovely place now by all accounts.

Yeah  theres worse place to live thats for sure and its still fairly groovy despite the influx of Hipsters and all that nonsense

Do you drive and if so do you particularly like cars?

No I never learned to drive 

Do you have environmental opinions – eg, should we triple the price of petrol, place a tax on anyone who has children, or should we just forge ahead for the apocalypse?

More funding for alternative sources of energy , encouragement for research , long term thinking outside of your own lifespan …..

I was in a really foul mood once, 2010 – 2014 to be precise. Does that resonate with you at all, or are you of a cheery disposition?

I try to stay positive be kind and friendly to others , but truth be told I don’t spring out of bed every morning yodelling “gooooood morning you beautiful world !” but fuck it maybe I should 

Talking of miserable bastards, did you read Steve Jones autobiography a couple of years back Lonely Boy?

No but  I should 

Do you do the lottery?

nah I never win anything  even scratch cards hate me 

Do you have any advice for the youth of today?

Use your devices , don’t let your devices use you 

I will leave the last words with you Stig, cheers for taking the time to look at these questions.

no worries 

Stig Miller ( photo Richard Parkhouse ).
Photo: Richard Parkhouse

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s