> SOAPBOX on making in art in the face of austerity and deprivation - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

SOAPBOX on making in art in the face of austerity and deprivation

On a sunny Sunday evening, SOAPBOX are hard at work in the studio: ‘It’s like having a second job that doesn’t pay you any money, and sometimes actually costs you money, but it’s great’.

The past few months have been busy for the four-piece punk band. At the end of April they played a sold-out gig at King Tut’s and released their first EP, HAWD THAT, off the back of performances in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Birmingham, and London. Before that, they had to make an anti-fascist statement after their music caught the attention of far- right group the Proud Boys, but now they’re keen to move on to more music, more videos, and most importantly more gigs.

Though they aren’t allowed to tell me much about their plans, they say that the second half of 2024 is going to be ‘a bit f***ing turbo’.

How has recording the EP and music videos affected your work?

Tom Rowan: We are a live band first and foremost – our songs don’t get made in the studio, they get made on the stage, if that doesn’t sound really pretentious.

Jenna Nimmo: Our songs change a lot when we first perform them live. We’ll play it one way at first, do it differently the next time, and vibe off what the audience likes better. If they really liked that one section or wee rhythm, we’ll try doubling it.

Aidan Bowskill: It’s a collaborative process.

Tom: Songs also change based on what, realistically, we can play and not tire ourselves out too much. Stuff speeds up or slows down, and lyrics change a lot depending on what I can say in one go.

Recording is an addition to what we do, not a compromise. Our goal is still to perform live as much as possible, but if people are investing their time and interest in you as a band they want you to have an output and a body of work. We now have more support in doing what we need to get the tunes out to more people – we get a lot of help from our label, and our managers at Scottish Music Collective.

SOAPBOX – Stiff Upper Lip (Official Video)

You describe yourselves as a Glasgow punk band. How does living and working here shape your music?

Tom: We all come from places that are quite different and we all have different upbringings, but obviously growing up in the West of Scotland means seeing your fair share of austerity and deprivation, so there’s a lot of stuff to be annoyed about. There’s a slight concern, now the stuff [music] is available all over the world, that folk won’t understand it.

Aidan: But that’s also what sets it apart.

Tom: You have to write about what comes to you, and shouldn’t make it more appealing to someone that isn’t gonna get it because that’s not how to do art really.

Your music talks about that austerity, deprivation, and the day-to-day realities of living on a low income. Is this written from experience, and how do you find it making music about these topics in a middle-class dominated arts scene?

Tom: None of us can afford to do this full time – we’re all working like f*ck all the time to afford to get down to gigs and do what we need to do. We don’t have the luxury of a lot of free time to create, and [rehearsing, recording and gigging] is work too. We also take on an operational role with the band: we book all our own shows and everyone chips in with social media, emails, and everything. It sometimes means 16–18 hours of band stuff on top of working a full time job.

Jenna: It’s a nightmare fitting four schedules together as well.

Tom: It’s frustrating sometimes, seeing people get opportunities if they’re not deserving of it, but it’s nothing new that there’s a lack of opportunities for people on lower incomes in the arts. The only way we’ll increase our opportunities is having good output and focusing on doing stuff that we think is good.

Jenna: You need to be resilient to be a working- class person continually pushing through in this kind of scene. Some of our songs are about experiences a middle-class person couldn’t write about truthfully – it’s why a lot of people are drawn to it, because at the end of the day there aren’t many people talking about these things. You end up losing out on the voices of working-class folk. We want to produce something that resonates with those people.

Tom: But what we’re talking about is universal; none of it is class bashing. At our gigs you get people from all over and all ages as well. We have two fans with SOAPBOX-related tattoos: one in her 50s, the other is 19. The thing about punk music is everyone’s pissed off about the same stuff.

SOAPBOX – Private Public Transport (Official Music Video)

On HAWD THAT the tone can be playful, serious, absurd, and angry, sometimes all at once, and your gigs are always a riot. What do you see as the purpose of your music?

Tom: You need to get people excited in order to engage them – that’s true of a rally or a gig. You need to get people to come on-side and use their energy. The same stuff we get out of creating it, they get out of taking part in the chaos of the gig, smashing into people and shouting about stuff that they also believe in.

Angus Husbands: Especially after a long day at work.

Jenna: I get so much joy from that 30–40 minutes. It definitely feels like you’ve got something out.

Aidan: Until you reach your lowest low 3 days later.

Tom: It can be hard to keep on top of those highs and lows sometimes. Those are the environments that help us write, but that thought doesn’t help at 8 on a Monday morning, to be honest!

HAWD THAT is out now, available on streaming services

Main Photo Credit: Nathan Dunphy

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