LICE, WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear

LICE band

What happens when you take classic British punk artists like IDLES, smash it with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and sprinkle in Girl Band and Daughters’ noise/no-wave and brutal progressive rock music? Well, you get something completely unique; this fantastic debut album WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear from LICE, the Bristol four-man band. It has so many memorable guitar hooks, cryptic and political lyrics, and insane psychedelic production. But that doesn’t even tell half the story.

WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear recalls the title of a film or a novel. And it is not a coincidence, because the pen of the group, Alastair Shuttleworth, distilled this album from many cinematographic and literary references. The themes and characters of the songs are inspired by it; they even published a readable version of the album in fiction form.

Lice Wasteland album cover

From the works of the American novelist William Burroughs to that of the British painter and writer Wyndham Lewis (the play “Enemy Of The Stars”) via David Lynch (“Ghost Of Love”) or Shakespeare, this concept album plunges us into a universe of science fiction where we follow complex strange characters. WASTELAND, without defined space-time, is populated by metamorphs, time travellers and ectoplasm. The story will follow three main characters whose titles of some songs are taken: The Conveyor (“Conveyor” ), “DRC” and “Dr Coehn”. The plot? Some of them concoct for us the self-destruction of the human race—just that.

Musically, and even before having gleaned any information on the project, we are transported (and somewhat taken aback) by the experimental side sometimes taken to the extreme. However, curiosity prevails, and several listening sessions are necessary to understand and absorb the enormity of what we are dealing with.

Just after Christmas, I got to have a quick chat with Alastair about their remarkable debut album.

LS: 2020 is almost over (yay!). What have you missed most this past year, and what are you looking forward to?

AS: We won’t be surprising anyone by saying live music. We love performing and had big plans for how the album tracks we didn’t play on our disrupted March 2020 UK tour would be brought to shows later in the year. Above all though, gigs are an excuse to see and be with friends; as a band, touring is an opportunity to catch up with people you only get to see when you have an excuse to go to their city. The four of us speak every day, so it is easy to forget, but you do start to miss the people we know through this band. Seeing them again, and playing to the narrow raft of allies we’ve amassed to this noble crusade, is definitely what we’re most looking forward to this year.

LS: The good news is that despite the lockdowns, you have a new album on the way, can you tell us when it will be released and what can we expect?

AS: Our debut album WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear comes out January 8th 2021. It’s a concept album, arguing that by unsettling the accepted conventions of satirical music, it can better deal with implicit forms of bias and social iniquity. Lyrically it was written and published as a standalone piece of fiction (available on our website) melding sci-fi, magical realism, and research into the violent writings of avant-garde movements such as The Italian Futurists. It also features a noise instrument (‘Intonarumori’) we built ourselves, based on the designs of the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo. Musically, it draws from minimalism, industrial, prog, our disillusionment with the UK punk circuit, and our experiences of Bristol’s currently-vital avant-garde scene.

Intonarumori instrument built by LICE ‘Intonarumori’ built by LICE (photo credit Rowan Allen)[/caption]

LS: With that in mind, what is your songwriting process? It must be one hell of a thing to bring to life?

AS: The songs were written over two years, during fun and intense weekends at The Old England—a venue in Bristol managed by our drummer Bruce, and meeting-place for a lot of our friends and peers. They all began life in different ways—“Clear” was built around a drum pattern Bruce came up with, and Silas using his guitar to emulate the opening orchestral pulses from Steve Reich’s “The Desert Music”. “Conveyor” began life as me running my voice through a DD3 guitar pedal and using the ‘hold’ feature to stutter it a la Sheffield’s Blood Sport over an electronic drum beat, before Gareth came up with that big riff. “Arbiter” was basically written on the spot, while we were all playing with ideas in The Old England’s pool room.

LS: Who are you inspired by musically?

AS: Musically, the album broadly aims to combine our interests in minimalism—particularly the work of Steve Reich and Philip Glass—with our interests in industrial music. In the latter, we were heavily inspired by peers and friends in Bristol’s experimental scene: HARRGA, Giant Swan, EBU and others. As a good entry point to this music, we’d direct your readers to the challenging but stunning compilations released by the Avon Terror Corps.

LS: Where would be your ideal gig and who would you be on the bill with?

AS: On the moon supporting MUSE.

LS: Stranger things have happened; after 2020, anything is possible! In addition to the album release, what are your plans for 2021 when we are all allowed out to play again?

AS: In March 2021 we perform a run of socially-distanced full-album shows, before going on a full-capacity UK tour in November. All of these shows will feature tracks from WASTELAND, and along with other accompanying instrumentation, we’ll be taking the Intonarumori on the road with us. Who knows—by November we might have music from Album 2 to share too.

In the meantime, you can watch the making of WASTELAND here:

Buy your tickets here and pray to whoever you want to that we’re out of lockdown by then.

November UK Tour

19 – Cambridge (The Blue Moon)
20 – Margate (Elsewhere)
21 – Brighton (The Hope & Ruin)
22 – Birmingham (The Sunflower Lounge)
23 – Manchester (YES)
24 – Glasgow (Flying Duck)
25 – York (The Fulford Arms)
26 – London (The Shacklewell Arms)
27 – Bristol (The Island)

Big thanks to Alastair for chatting with me. I really cannot recommend this album enough; LICE are something special, unique, experimental but never pretentious. I can’t wait to see them play the album live; I suspect I’ll need a new mind after the experience.

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