Healthy Junkies, outspoken and fearless

By John Clay

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Had a catch up with Healthy Junkies about the recent violence between the far-right and the police over statues. We also discussed media manipulation, fake punks, a breakdown of their feelings over racial and sexual discrimination. Their new single covers the latter, and as usual, the band was on point regarding every question I shot their way. 

So, it seems like the far-right are playing the old game of stoking violence in the city. Any thoughts about how the press handled their actions?

Phil: There seems to be a huge amount of propaganda in the press. Facts are twisted to fire up a story into a super-sensationalist headline. There is denial too. Out of touch with the times, I think, is a fair assessment. Papers such as The Daily Mail fuel hatred in this country.

What is the main difference between the coverage of the 80’s troubles and the ones we’re seeing forty-odd years later?

Phil: One big difference is that fact that the 80s had no internet, social media and the only TV news was the BBC and ITV. So it was streamlined and super controlled. Much more focused on the Thatcher government of the time and the troubles that followed. Nowadays we see much more varied points of view as of course there are so many outlets. Change is beginning to happen, and the world is a smaller place. There is movement in the air. This, in theory, should mean that people are becoming much more aware these days. It is possible to self-educate very quickly via the internet. Still, of course, it’s also a melting pot of fake news and facts need to be verified.

What are the positives and negatives of bands that want to comment on these events?

Phil: The positives in this are bands can share information with their fanbase and spread the word of change. They can discuss with one another the present, the future, the things that can be done, the actions that can be taken. Sharing responsibility is a massive part of moving forward. Until we acknowledge the truth, how can we seek to remedy those negative issues that are entrenched in society? The negatives, well if bands are voicing certain strong opinions, they may ostracise some of their audience, but they may also gain followers. Bands are quite tribal in the way they operate, decisions they make about commenting on social issues can indeed have a significant impact on their future. We have found ourselves scrutinising what we say that much more because we like many others we are wanting to deconstruct so we can reassemble.

What would you say to bands who have adopted a ‘head in the sand’ approach?

Phil: I am not going to start judging other bands for their non-action because I believe that people address things in several ways. Some people may, for example, discreetly give to a charity. In contrast, another may want to shout about it and tell the world. That is their decision. That said, in today’s political/social climate speaking out, showing your support for your belief is fundamental. It really is a case of ‘If we stand together we are stronger’. Change is in the air. But to make it happen (rather than be patronisingly swept under the virtual carpet), we do need to speak up, give voice and do our bit.

Nina: I think it doesn’t help, they should speak up. It doesn’t take long to share meaningful articles about important subjects, and it is a duty I think as a band to do so. I’d say to them that they do need to wake up and stop pretending that it isn’t happening because this is how it can come across. Throughout the years, many famous artists have tried to make a difference by using their platforms to inspire people. I am thinking of John Lennon as an example, there seemed to be more of a political conscience back then for musicians. I believe there is more of a narcissistic attitude with bands now, and there should be a lot more of speaking up. I call it the “selfie generation” which I’m part of in terms of age, but I chose to go against it.

Do you think the ‘Selfie Generation’ co-opt the idea of punk for social status rather than the ideology of empowering the community?

Phil: The selfie generation is really worlds apart from the first punk generation. Things were very different in the late 70s. But there are similarities to now as well. The summer of 76 saw the biggest heatwave on record, and that coupled with the frustration of a no-future society can be compared to the lockdown and the bleak economic future for young people today. Also, the cry for change was ringing loud and clear through punk music, which made it to the mainstream back then. There are many young people today who want real change, enough to join a massive protest during a pandemic.

Nina: I’d say that yes, it’s probably the case for some people. They like the idea of belonging to the punk world for the “I don’t give a shit attitude” and their vanity and bad boy/girl image. Still, when it comes to following through on the ideals on which this movement was based, and question the establishment, there don’t seem to be as many voices speaking out as they could be.

Do you think they’re waiting for the topic of race to become yesterday’s news, and in asking that, how long do you think such a state of play will continue?

Phil: The subject of race isn’t going to just disappear. I’m pretty sure most young people realise this right now, whatever their views may be. It’s the people who run things, those with the power at their fingertips that would no doubt like it to drift away, like a harmless mist in a breeze on an otherwise golden spring day. That’s not going to happen. How can it? Humans naturally desire to evolve, and that requires the right information with the education to know how to use it. Everyone is talking about race right now and the powers that be face the possibility of a real revolution. People are connected worldwide, and the world is eagerly watching on…

Do you feel there is a reason for the double standard of these bands who seem more eager to comment on sexism? Why can’t they follow your example and be activists for both causes?

Phil: Change takes time, hundreds of years in this case. But it’s the root and foundation of a society that needs to be questioned and underpinned. Or better still dug up completely and relaid with a solid footing based on truth and equality. Our video is about sexual discrimination and inequality. Racial issues are often based on inequality. In the coming weeks and months, this conversation is still going to be going on. People have to make their own minds up as to whether they want to be that person who stands up against racism, or turns a blind eye and shrugs it off. Many of us are learning and discovering so much about history, and putting wrongs right is top of the agenda. Even the word history is patriarchal! So this is happening, and society will just have to adapt itself. It is generations overdue. I believe more and more people will get on board as time takes us into the new decade.

Perhaps sexism has become an easier social issue to commodify?

Nina: Yes, I think there’s definitely a commercial appeal to be associated with a movement such as #metoo and to use sexism to sell your product. It sometimes comes across like jumping on the bandwagon to get noticed and make more sales. I’ve definitely seen some of that around. It becomes all about business rather than defending a cause.

And in the end, people who only use those causes to get more sales are undermining the real victims. But in the case of sexism, it definitely seems to be more geared up to commerciality than something like the BLM movement.

There seems to be a false narrative in regards to sexism, as though Weinstein going to jail meant the war was won, and thus easier to co-opt. What do you make of this?

Phil: Weinstein was a big catch for sure, a few others have been called out too. But we are talking about the few that control things and that want to protect their interests and power. It is more about the mindset of these people, the idea that they can continue to exploit others without consequence that lays at the heart of this. There will always be another Weinstein unless this is addressed. Otherwise, it’s a case of ‘He got caught, that’s where he went wrong’ rather than ‘This is wrong’.

We’ve seen the release of your new video which tackles sexual discrimination. Have you had fans message you about their own experiences?

Nina: Yes, a couple of girls who messaged me. One of them said that we portrayed the abuse of power in the office very well as she experienced it. It reminded her of her own dilemma of the past, and someone else just said “so true” which I’m guessing means that they can relate to it. We’re hoping to reach even more people who have had a similar problem in the coming week as it’s essential to talk about such issues. If this video is comforting to anyone at all in terms of they feel that they’re not the only one in this situation we think we’re doing something right at least.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of your stand-in drummer, David Gaut. How did you guys find him?

Phil: This is true, John. David Gaut, who plays the drums in the video, is an old school friend of David Whitmore, our bass player extraordinaire. They both hail from Maidenhead, and I believe drummer Dave still lives in the area. When we first met Dave W he had just finished a tour with a Nirvana tribute band, he was standing in for Dave drummer ( who also plays guitar and bass ). So while it was a little confusing at times having 2 Daves on set the chemistry between them was something you only get with people who have a long history of playing together. They also played in a band together in the past. We were lucky to have Dave drum for the video as he was asked with little notice. Typical of us doing everything last minute. Dave Gaut was a real catch for this video.

The dude was a handy presence on set, as was former frontman of Jellly, a Mr Stevie Bray! Plus you had other cameos from other musicians as well. Care to talk about all these contributors?

Nina: We were fortunate to be able to put together such a group of talented people for this video. Every one of the cast has their own thing going on. We have been personal friends with Stevie, Aaron and Victor for quite some time beforehand. We’ve shared the stage with them and their bands before. Stevie as you quite rightly said was the lead singer in a band called Jellly, very good friends of ours and a fantastic group if you get a chance to see them. Stevie also played the drums for Toyah, he recorded her first two albums. If you talk to him about it, he will share with you many exciting stories and anecdotes as life as a signed musician back in the ’70s and ’80s. Aaron is the star bass player of A VOID. Another fantastic band who we played with many times and that you should check out if you don’t know them. Victor is the lead singer frontman of Dirty Ol’ Crow. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and you should check his band out as well. Isabella had been coming to see us play live on several occasions before this video and I got chatting with her and formed quite a bond. She already had acting experience playing a part in the series Black Mirror. So you see the dynamic between us was that of friends on the same page.

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Cover photo by Andrew Ball