Interview with Duncan of Sheep on Drugs on May 6, 1996 via telephone

Photos by Jester Copyright © 1997

Having been warned to expect the worst, I was pleasantly surprised when I received my interview phone call from Duncan of Sheep on Drugs. Instead of the usual inanity and stage antics, I had the luxury of speaking to a very soft spoken individual who was more than happy to answer all of my questions, no matter how specific or broad they might be. Apparently I was the first person to the interview Duncan since he had arrived in America to promote the release of "Double Trouble" on Invisible Records, and record their new album in Chicago under the directorship of Martin Atkins. Therefore he was still in a very cordial mood and was willing to put up even with my abusive sense of humor.

The journey to the United States was not easy for Duncan and Lee and they nearly didn't arrive for a number of reasons. First they needed to move everything out of Lee's flat in a London suburb because they didn't know when they would return. Between them they only had 20 pounds, which wasn't enough to rent a van and a driver as neither Lee nor Duncan can legally drive in England. So after selling several home appliances for extra cash, they moved all of Lee's equipment to Duncan's parents house and prepared for their journey. There were then stopped short at the airport when they realized that they didn't have work VISAS to perform in the states. However after a bit of luggage searching, feigned looks of innocence and pumping Duncan full of over the counter drugs for his throat infection, they gave a hefty two fingers to England and left for the land of opportunity.

Duncan and I spoke for over forty-five minutes of which only thirty minutes were recorded due to a dual malfunction of the phone hanging up on his end and my machine failing to record after the hang up. Duncan was also on a speaker phone for most of the interview and as a result the volume was exceedingly low in places and I was unable to extract some of the vital information. However, here an excerpt of the conversation that was recorded at an audible volume prior to the technical difficulties.

Jester: I've heard Sheep on Drugs referred to as 'Ewes on Booze' in other interviews and I was wondering if that was something you came up with, or something the fans have made up?

Duncan: That nickname is something other fans have come up with.

Jester: On 'Double Trouble', it is the 'Suck' and 'Strapped for Cash' EP, both of which were released in the past in England only. Can we expect to see any new material available on Invisible Records soon?

Duncan: Yes, we are recording a new album right now. The album is set for release in late August to early September and we'll be touring for it as well besides the short tour coming up here shortly.

Jester: I'll be seeing you at the Dome Room in Chicago on the short leg of the tour on May 23rd.

Duncan: Your not that far away from Chicago?

Jester: I'm just about two hours south.

Duncan: I'm really looking forward to playing on the tour.

Jester: Have you seen dressing rooms at the Dome Room yet? They are just unbelieveable.

Duncan: Yes, I've seen them. I really enjoy playing clubs like that. By having spacious rooms it allows us to walk around a bit unlike some of the smaller clubs we've played where we've just been jammed into a small closet.

Jester: As I was listening to this album, I noticed that the first half which is the 'Suck' EP material was much slower and laid back than anything else you've ever released previously. I was seeing a totally different aspect to Sheep on Drugs than I had ever seen before and I wasn't sure of the why you choose to write those tracks.

Duncan: I'll tell you why. We got dropped from Smersh/Island. Polygram bought Island and a load of bands we're just written off. So we decided to form our own record label call The Drug Squad. We wanted a definite change to our music, to send a message to both our listeners and our former label that we had changed for the better. We also did another album called 'On Drugs' which was released only in England that was also much different than some of our older material. The whole album does start slow and pick up very quickly from track to track which was intentional. Track 5, "Come Fly With Me" is the slowest Sheep on Drugs track ever recorded. The next track, "X-lover" picks up pace considerably although the mix could have been better. We are redoing that track and it might appear on the new album.

Jester: Are you going to film any videos for the new album like you have in the past for "Motorbike", "Track X", and "15 Minutes of Fame"?

Duncan: Yes, definitely. In fact back in England right now a friend of mine is finishing the production work for a video for "Come Fly With Me". It was taped at home in England in my living room. I want to also do another video for "X-lover" with perhaps some live material taken from the short promotion tour for 'Double Trouble'. We going to place cameras all over the stage for the tour and hopefully end up with some good footage to use in future videos. In the past I've directed all the videos myself, with the exception of the one being finished now. So I am looking forward to having someone else do the work on the new material.

Jester: Do your videos get a lot of play in Europe, because I know here in the United States, ever since Dave Kendall left MTV, no band in this genre of music gets any serious play time.

Duncan: We get played on MTV Europe regularly on 120 Minutes. They used to play us in America as well on the same program in the past.

Jester: Yes, Dave Kendall used to VJ that program in the late eighties and early nineties, but ever since he left there hasn't been a great deal of electronic music of any kind played on 120 Minutes in the United States.

Duncan: For whatever reason the press people and video programs seem to be ignoring us lately. They seem to focus all the all the new clone bands from England like Oasis, but they have ignored us the past few albums with the exception of album reviews.

Jester: How exactly did you meet Martin Atkins at Invisible to and get him to rerelease your older EP's domestically on a single album?

Duncan: I met Martin about three years ago. When Pigface did one London show, I met Dave Baker as well. We were talking about music before the show and and they offered to help me out.

Jester: So they will also be licensing the new album from your record label in America as well?

Duncan: Yes.

Jester: Is there any chance that the United States audience will ever seen some of your older material like 'On Drugs' released domestically as well?

Duncan: Yes, we hope to be able to release some of the older stuff in a year. We also want to release stuff in Europe because 'On Drugs' was only released in the United Kingdom and I could not get distribution for it in the rest of Europe. So I've been busy trying to get the rights back for all of the older material from Island. It's been six months now since I sent my last letter and made my last phone call to Island and I haven't received a reply. I used to call every week and that never got me anywhere. So as soon as I get the rights for all of the older Sheep on Drugs releases back, Martin said that he will reissue them on Invisible. Shortly you'll be bombarded and sick to death of us.

Jester: Well, I think the all the releases and the tour can only aid your image here in the States where many people haven't even heard of your before much less your music.

Duncan: True, but we've only got something like 25-32 dates and that isn't long enough to truly tour. It's such a large country and there are so many cities that we won't be able to get too. We'd like to tour more if we can later down the road assuming we are successful with this tour. Being here now is great compared to the music scene in England which is practically dead. We needed to come here in order for the band to survive, because we were suffocating back at home. The fact that your talking to me right now conducting an interview is proof enough of that since the press ignores us back home. The whole scene is so proud of itself and it simply doesn't realize how bad it is stabbing itself in the back.

Jester: I think that is kind of ironic because the music industry here has suddenly become stagnant saleswise, but the club scenes are larger than they've ever been.

Duncan: That whole Brit Pop, bands like Oasis and Blur are front page material and they won't write a thing about us. We can pack venues that bands which they cover simply can't fill. We are not in the same league as those bands, but we can still draw more people that the bands that are getting press coverage. We are apparently not allowed to be covered anymore.

Jester: That surprised me, because I know some of the antics and stunts that you've pulled in the past, you'd think that the press would be all over you for the things you've done on stage in front of an audience.

Duncan: The local fanzines have all been really good, but the newspapers have simply become horrible. The stage show has become better and better and we still draw the people, we just can't get them to discuss us. We get ignored basically. I think that when I started doing the press for the releases on The Drug Squad label they simply could not handle talking to me all of the time. They all thought I was crazy.

Jester: I was actually warned by several people that I would not be able to get a serious interview out of you, and I've been pleasantly surprised that they were all incorrect.

Duncan: I not a very serious person when I've had a few drinks in my system. However it's early in the day and I haven't had a drink so I'm very serious. Although I'm dying for a drink. If you had caught me a little later in the day I might be talking a lot of shit at you.

Jester: You mentioned before about the stage show getting better, what type of show do you have played for the upcoming tour?

Duncan: I've brought a huge wooden trunk filled with all sorts of costumes. It is going to be something. I can't understand why more bands don't do the kind of costume stage show that we do. Kids these days have an attention span of five seconds and you constantly have to bombard them with new and interesting things on stage to keep their attention. They want lights, color and action. Just to get up there and sing doesn't cut it. You need to interact through with the crowd and that is something that we've been doing since the very beginning. That's why I used costumes. They are the simplest and most easy to change props. The whole stage show will be very dramatic. I would be bored to death on stage if I didn't do something.

Jester: The stage show is as much for you as it is for everyone else.

Duncan: Definitely and I really do enjoy it because the show is always different. Otherwise the set list is always the same and people begin to anticipate everything we do. Now we're interacting with the crowd more and Lee isn't always on the back of the stage. He moves up front right to the crowd now. The whole stage show has been a completely natural evolution from the outset of the band.

Jester: As I was looking through the artwork for 'Double Trouble' it looks as if it was intentionally made to look very cheap and gaudy, is that true?

Duncan: Most of that artwork was taken from the two EP's that made up the reissued album. I live in Kings Cross which is like the sleaziest part of England and they actually advertise pornography there. So we took one of these real cheap porn cards and used it for our artwork. That was the most popular calling cards out of all of them, and it said 'For Cash' on it as the telephone, like F was a 3 and so on. We originally made the artwork look really cheap like the porn advertising cards. They really are these cheap cards made of plastic which cost pennies to make and they charge a fortune for them in the shops. With 'Suck' it was just sort of a barrage of information intended to lure in the listener. I had run out of ideas and I wanted something new and original. So we went absolutely mad with the artwork.

Jester: I noticed that Grace Jones covered a track of yours called, 'Sex Drive' and I wonder what you thought of that.

Duncan: I really enjoyed especially when I stole the idea for the track off Warm Leatherette. I thought it was really too weird. The track was written because I wanted to write a song about driving and the next thing I know, Grace Jones is doing a version of our song. I figured why not since she had sung it already, and we had stole it from her. I actually got to meet her. I expected her to be like six foot four but she's actually quite short. She's really only five foot six. I was really quit shocked that she was so tiny. I met her just after I arrived in America, the same night in fact. I arrived all doped up on drugs from being sick and a little bit drunk. They meet me at the airport and ushered me off to see Grace Jones. We ended up stayed until like 8 am at her house. We'd really like to do some work with her in the future, but we'll see.

Jester: Cubanate has been quoted as saying, "Take the best thirty seconds from old Sheep on Drugs twelve inches and extend them over the entire album and that is Cubanate." How does that make you feel?

Duncan: I think Cubanate is shit. I know Marc Heal(sp?). He was walking around a venue that we sold out that Cubanate couldn't even hope to fill saying that they were going to be the next Sheep on Drugs. Why would he want to be us when he can make his own music? Why wouldn't you rather be your own band and not the next version of something else?

Jester: How the record release party go in Chicago?

Duncan: It went well. I spent most of the time drinking quite oblivious to what was going on. I certainly enjoyed it.

Jester: Did a lot of fans show up and come talk with you?

Duncan: A few of them did but I think that most people are afraid of me. A lot of people don't approach me because of the way I am on stage. A you can hear I am actually a fairly normal talkative type person when you meet me not on stage.

Jester: I found that is very normal. Many fans feel very intimidated by the musicians they listen too and are very hesitant to talk to them on a personal level. The sad fact is that most of the artists I've meet are actually very nice people and they end up losing out on a great opportunity to give feedback to the bands they enjoy.

Duncan: That's a shame because I really enjoy being told how much they enjoy my music. A stroke on the ego is always good. A lot of bands are afraid of their fans and what they have to say. Lee and myself are quite the opposite and we really want to interact with the fans. We don't fit into a genre of music and we want feedback about how we're doing. We don't have real contact beyond the press people, so the fans are the only contact we have to see how we're doing with the public. So if you see us on tour come up and talk to us.

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