Andrés GarridoPhoto : Dave UglyPunk Williams
I was recently fortunate to have a conversation with Beki Straughan, a talented Singer-lyricist from the UK bands Loaded 44 and Chaos 8 whose EP, Out of Control, was recently released. We chatted about her sound, her musical inspirations, and the art of songwriting.
What sparks your imagination?
I love being around creative people who are doing creative things. I find that is the best way to get my imagination fired up and get the ideas flowing. If I can’t be around people, then going out and taking notice of what is going on around me, wherever I am, to just sit and take time to really look at things can wake the imagination. Inspiration is everywhere if you stop and take notice of it. Travelling somewhere new always makes me want to do something different when I get home.
What’s one of the most important qualities for a singer to have?
I think the most important quality is to be able to convey the meaning of the song so that people can see you mean every word. It doesn’t matter whether the meaning of the lyrics are obvious or not. It isn’t necessarily the voice. Some of my favourite singers haven’t got a brilliant voice but they tell you exactly what the song is about and you can tell they’re feeling it through their whole body. If a singer looks bored or dead behind the eyes then they shouldn’t be up there. It’s the best job in the band and you can’t just go through the motions.
How important is truth as a starting point to a lyrical idea?
I used to only write lyrics that were based in truth – a personal experience, a person I’ve met, or my opinion of a subject. It can be easier to write songs based in truth, they can be incredibly personal, to the point where sometimes it can hurt to sing them. Which isn’t a bad thing. But I also like to write songs based on fictional things I’ve read or seen. It’s also much harder for anyone to figure out what you’re singing about!
How much self-examination goes into your music?
Loads! One thing I can’t bear, is to think that something I’ve said has been misunderstood or misinterpreted. When I’m writing lyrics, I have to make sure that whatever I say is true to what I believe and they come across exactly as I intend them to.
How much of you is revealed in your songs?
Probably quite a lot. Depending on how much I want to reveal. And then when I sing those songs, recorded or live, it’s a chance to express how I really feel about them. At one point I had written a lot of songs about rotten politicians and bankers and the state of the world, and I was getting extremely angry and probably quite depressed singing them! I didn’t want to stop singing those songs as I felt really strongly about them so I had just had to write more songs about the joys of being alive!
Do you believe music has a responsibility to address social and political issues?
I do believe that music can have a responsibility to address social and political issues, and there is some fantastic music that does exactly that. But I also believe that music is also there to entertain and to make you feel good. Or sad for that matter. Some of my favourite songs, that I will never get tired of, have absolutely nothing to do with sorting out the world’s problems. They are purely for pleasure. I can’t imagine life without music, nor can I imagine only listening to music with a social or political message. Music can be an escape from the world and all the shit and injustice in it.
What are your views on sexualization on pop music?
Well it’s hardly anything new and it doesn’t keep me awake at night. Is anyone really listening if the singer has barely any clothes on? Even if the singer is a man, he’ll have his clothes on, but the girls in the video won’t! Personally I couldn’t care less what anyone wears on stage or in pop videos, and if you’re wearing clothes or not wearing clothes because that’s what you want, then that’s great and all power to you. The problem is if you’re told to wear very little, because you’re music won’t sell unless you do that. Isn’t it better for a pop song to be great musically and still sound fantastic 30 years later, than a rubbish song that sells millions because everyone’s in bikinis and nobody remembers it in 6 months time?
Do you think music has lost its aggression?
No, not at all. At least not in the punk world. I think it’s more aggressive than ever. We are all so much more aware of the injustice in the world now so there is more to be aggressive about. Punk is just as relevant today as it ever was, maybe more so.
What do you think about the music scene in terms of the bands out there now?
The bands are so diverse, the whole punk genre is massive! Has there ever been a time when there are so many bands? Maybe there have always been loads but it’s just easier to find out about them all now with social media, youtube etc. There are the original first wave punk bands still touring relentlessly and releasing new material, and so many brand new bands that are bringing their own twist to it. It’s constantly evolving and bringing other influences into it, which it needs to do or it will all be gone within 10 years. It can’t, and shouldn’t, stay still with the same sound it had 40 years ago.
What are your favourite Chaos and Loaded songs?
Chaos 8 – “Darkness & Dust” and “Out Of Control”
Loaded 44 – “I Want It All” & “Line Him Up” (which we haven’t recorded yet)
It always seems to be the newest songs that are my favourites and they change as new ones get written. But then I’ll hear an older one and change my mind!
Were you in bands before Chaos 8, Loaded 44 and Steve Ignorant? How was your first involvement in bands and punk music?
I’ve always been into punk music, as well as many other genres, and my husband has always been in punk bands, but I started singing really late. I had always wanted to and never thought I could. Then some friends of mine were looking for a singer and I thought if I didn’t try it I would never know. So I did, and I’ve never stopped since. We were called the Creepers and we played together for a year before I left to join Loaded 44.
How did the musical combination work between Steve Ignorant and you?
It was great, I just tried to be as true to the Crass songs that I sang as I could. He was quite happy for me to be myself when I performed them, there was never any restriction on how I conveyed them. We got on really well personally so being on stage together was really good fun.
What was your ambition as young woman? What is your ambition now?
I just wanted to be happy in whatever I was doing and live forever. Now I just want to keep on being happy doing what I love to do and to live forever! Oh, and to be a nice human being.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your life?
I haven’t had any huge, dramatic obstacles, no more than a lot of people have gone through. I don’t dwell on things in the past, it’s utterly pointless.
How did your upbringing in punk scene shape you as an artist?
I have spent more time as a fan and going to gigs than I have as a singer, because I started so late. Maybe that means I know what I would want to see at a gig, so I’m thinking about the show from an audience point of view. And not all my influences are from the punk scene either.
What is punk?
I haven’t a clue, I’m sure there’ll be books somewhere all about it! I’m just an angry hippy who wears loads of eyeliner. For me, punk is about being free to think for myself, be creative, and be nice to people and animals, to spend time with great people who think along the same lines, stand up for others less fortunate, and listen to some great music along the way!
What do you think about punk violent audiences?
I haven’t witnessed violent punk audiences to be honest. There can often be a couple of arseholes at gigs but not a massive violent crowd. Maybe I’m going to the wrong gigs!
In terms of politics, music and technology: What do you make of 21st century so far?
It’s like we are living in some kind of hilarious film where the worst possible characters imaginable are in charge and all the hideous injustices in the world are celebrated as normal. Where money is worshipped, and people and animals are punished for having the audacity for still being alive. But that’s been the case throughout history so isn’t really specific to the 21st century, we just have a better idea of what is going on.
The 21st century is built upon the brilliant music that went before and it is evolving all the time. Yes, there is some utter garbage out there but I’m not talking about that, that’s always been around! The fact that everyone’s music is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime is so beneficial to bands and fans alike.
The ability to make music in our own studios now is brilliant. All Chaos 8 music is created and recorded in Paul’s (guitarist) house. He creates all this electronic wizardry and we just sit around waiting to record our parts, drinking all his posh coffee! That’s one of the great things about technology these days, it is so accessible. And it’s getting more marvellous by the day. To think how much technology used to cost and the limitations it had, say just 10 years ago, compared to now, it is beyond incredible. I love technology. I haven’t a clue how it works but I couldn’t function without it. I just find that the better technology gets, the more impatient I get with it!
I wouldn’t want to live in any other time. I don’t have rose-tinted glasses on for nostalgia. I love living now, the 21st century is brilliant and we can make it even better if we just stopped killing and hurting each other and everything else on the planet. See, just an angry hippy!
Would you give some message or advice to women in digital age?
I don’t know, maybe just because you can send photos of your naked selves all over the world to everyone, doesn’t mean that you should. Also, never compare yourself to anyone, especially to anyone you see on a screen. It’s all a lie! Don’t believe it!
What’s the most one can hope for in life?
Getting replies to emails when asking for gigs. That’s always nice.
Would you give me a little insight of the making of your albums:
Chaos 8: Burn (Self-released, 2014). Cause & Effect (Self-released, 2016).
“Burn” was written before we even had a band. Paul had written and played the music, I wrote the lyrics and we recorded everything in his loft studio over a few months. There was coffee and cakes. We put it on iTunes and it was well received so we started to find musicians to take it on the road.
“Cause & Effect” was recorded at Polestar studios and then mixed and mastered at Paul’s studio. It was an entirely different process from “Burn” and there was less coffee involved and no cake.
Loaded 44: Wasted On You (STP, Records, 2011). Come on! (STP, Records, 2014).
“Wasted On You” was a selection all the best Loaded 44 songs up to 2011. We had released EP’s prior to that but this was all the Christmas hits all on 1 CD. We had recorded them all at Mirage Studios in Marske by the Sea. I made a lot of coffee.
“Come On” was recorded at Trinity Heights in Newcastle. Dave (guitarist) wrote most of the songs, I wrote some of the lyrics and Steve wrote a couple too. It was all done in a week. There was a lot of tea.
Do you have more albums?
Loaded 44 have a 4 track EP – “Get Ready” released 2016 and we are currently writing a new album with our brand new line up. We may get impatient and release an EP first!
Chaos 8 have released “Cause and Effect” on red vinyl and we have a brand new EP out “Out Of Control” which was released in 2018. We are working on the next EP due out early in 2019.f