An empty crisp packet blows past a rundown social club in a small town, its chipped and peeling sign a limp signifier of general neglect. People walk past and don’t give it a second glance. Inside, the carpet is threadbare and the split cushions on the bar stools and couches tell a similar story. The cracks in its already shabby exterior are only getting wider and deeper. This was once a place that bustled and thrived, and was important to so many; but only a few souls now remain, still searching for some means of escapism. Apathy has killed it.
The same scene can be found at greasy spoon cafés, pool halls, boarded up pubs and soulless shopping centres across the country, the crumbling façades of broken Britain. Bitterness stalks frustration in such places, quickly followed by anger at the hopelessness and of having been left behind. But there’s a resilience there too, an ability to look at the situation not just with despair but with a wry smile and a self-deprecating sense of humour.
EYESORE & THE JINX are acutely aware of these simmering tensions, and are able to tap in to the undercurrent of unease and channel it through their own darkly comedic filter. Bassist/vocalist Josh Miller, guitarist Liam Bates and drummer Eoghan Robinson are the observers of “shit Britain”, as they term it, spitting out “a collection of maudlin odes to the world’s impending annihilation”. They do this in the form of a frenetic punkabilly that is angry, funny and tight as hell. You might already have seen one of their (many) pulsating live shows and been hooked in by their intensity, the hold and release of emotions. You may even have heard their single, Gated Community, which rages about the smallminded factions of society over a breakneck beat: “The rigid sameness attracted me/The rich and famous attracted me/The original sadists attracted me/And that’s why I live in a gated community”.
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The trio’s follow-up single, On An Island, also released on Eggy Records, is a similar attack, and finds Eyesore in the kind of form that has marked them out as one of the brightest sparks in UK guitar music. A critique on arbitrary borders, superficial trends and a “violent lack of empathy”, On An Island was recorded at Fresh Goods Studios with production work by Clinic’s John Hartley. “I can’t believe the things I’ve seen” Josh spits, as he turns his ire towards body shamers and Instagram famous, among others. On a previous, discarded version of the track (recorded at ChampZone in Sheffield, the new studio home of Fat White Family), you can almost hear the veins popping in Josh’s neck as he battles to keep up with the relentless tempo. The definitive version of the single keeps all the same tension in balance, but it unspools in a much more controlled way, making Josh’s barked “On an island” land with even more impact
“There’s definitely a collective sense that something’s gone wrong, isn’t there?” Josh says when I meet the band for a chat, and try to pick away at the anger that seems to be fuelling a lot of this tension. Although they reference the shambolic state of the country as the reason for the pervading sense of unease, you would say that Eyesore are a politically-charged band rather than a political one: you won’t find them singling out specific figures for ridicule, but a critical eye on political and societal discourse is inferred through Josh’s lyrics of social climbers and surface dwellers. “The current political climate being the shitshow that it is, I think it’s impossible to ignore,” Josh explains. “I don’t think any of our music is political out of responsibility, it’s more a case of shooting fish in a barrel.”
Rather than being rage-filled polemicists, the three Eyesore lads are more interested in making light of the humdrum, and poking fun at the kind of “Brexit scruffs” who tend to dominate public discourse. There’s great humour to be had in making light of a hapless situation, and is often the best way to combat the frustration and misery it brings. The band’s social media tone finds exactly the right kind of irreverence and pulls at the same threads of absurdity, sharing pictures of faded celebrities or infamous people, with tongue-in-cheek observations of life.
It’s partly this fascination for hilarious mundanity that leads us to be standing around in Birkenhead on a cold Sunday morning for a photo shoot. The search for a no-frills version of Britain that’s frayed around the edges has brought us to an almost forgotten bit of the world that is dotted with shuttered warehouse units and a sense of abandonment. When the lights go down it also doubles as a red-light district. This is the broken Britain of post-industrial towns and suburbs on the edges of big cities that Eyesore speak of, where money is scarce and frustrations run high.
We step inside a pub near Hamilton Square for some warmth after the band have spent the best part of two hours looking awkward stood in front of various shabby buildings (it turns out they’re experts). Amid the military paraphernalia and frequent odes to past glories, Josh and Eoghan chat about the similarities between what they do and the satirical nature of Spitting Image, or the tragi-comic parodies of Twitter sensation Coldwar Steve. Josh also likens their shared appreciation for “cultural tat” and the weirder aspects of human existence to a very British strain of comedy horror, the kind of surrealism depicted in Ben Wheatley films and perfected by The League Of Gentlemen. The pair share a joke some over scenes from Inside No. 9, the latest sitcom from the creators of The League Of Gentlemen, which also speaks to that desire to reflect the absurdity of normal life back at us, but with an added twist of unsettlingly dark humour.
Similarly, their musical lineage owes a lot to the barked, surreal commentary on small town characters that Mark E Smith excelled in. This lineage also includes the post-punk take on psychobilly that is found in the DNA of The Birthday Party and The Gun Club; equally, Eyesore fit comfortably alongside contemporary acts like Parquet Courts, Omni and Duds when it comes to knitting together great hooks with stop-start rhythms (with plenty of cow bell on top). But it’s the influence of The Fall – in terms of non-contemporary influences –that looms the largest. It’s also something that the conversation naturally returns to, and reveals some insight into the band’s thinking.
Do you see anything of The Fall in what you do?
JM: I’d like to think so. I’ve been trying to pick at it a bit more as we developed. Not so much in the lyrics directly, but more in the way that it’s an exaggeration of more normal walks of life. The new single we’ve just done [for the upcoming EP] is called Murder In The Culture Void, and it’s just about having murder in every sense of the word – both literal and figurative – and basing it in West Derby on a Saturday night!
That surreal strain on British comedy that plays on the fringes of society and of forgotten places is very exaggerated, but there are lots of grains of truth in it, too. Is that what you were going for?
JM: I think so, yeh. That’s what we were hoping to eventually get at, and I even think there’s so much more to pull at. It also comes from not wanting to be just a political band. We’ve no desire to be Billy Bragg and have everyone digging into the politics in all of our songs. But there’s politics in the situation as well, and the places and the behaviour of the people. Singing about the kind of people who get coked off their heads on a Saturday night and batter someone is also talking about the frustration of the situation they find themselves in. It’s about things that are as a result of politics, more subtle. And I think it’s funnier as well. It’s such a rich seam to delve into. I think Sleaford Mods do that quite well, and they touch on a lot of that too, without being overtly political.
More satirical than preachy?
JM: Definitely. It’s dark but with the element of comedy. That’s kind of what the point of the name Eyesore & The Jinx is, I suppose. To have something at its core that was quite horrible, but then the Jinx being the comedy element, to frame this dark scenario. That’s probably what ties in The League Of Gentlemen and Inside No. 9 stuff. British people tend to do that quite well. It’s a very British sense of humour – eventually that’s where I see that we can push it.
ER: Sometimes it’s quite horrible and dark, but it’s rooted in reality.
JM: We use the music for comic effect sometimes, in certain sounds and rhythms. That speaks as much as the overt politics. Like, there’s only so many times you can use a cowboy drum beat over something I’m singing about racists! In that way, it is a bit limiting. I just like the thought of grounding it in more reality.
ER: The only way to get through everything is comedy really, and just laughing about it.
JM: I find it weird that nostalgia for stuff that’s a bit rubbish and frayed around the edges. Just look at that picture there with the grey sky [pointing over my head to a picture of a ship on the wall]. It’s Britain, isn’t it? Just a bit shite. It’s a bit class-less as well, isn’t it? In that, anyone from any background can find it funny. It’s not demanding too much of you.
What fuels it, do you think?
JM: Maybe it’s a little bit of frustration, or a disconnect that breeds apathy. I dunno though… I suppose we do something slightly similar in the way we use social media, sharing pictures of slightly ridiculous figures and such. Coming back to something I said before, there’s a collective sense that something’s gone not quite right, and there’s also a feeling that it’s a little bit out of your hands, too. The whole Brexit thing is pretty bizarre – I still can’t get my head around how it all happened. I think Britain, at its core, is quite conservative, and because of that you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle sometimes. That can leave you feeling quite helpless, and all you can do then is take the piss out of the situation you’re in. That’s all we’ve got left really, our sense of humour.
But you don’t walk round angry?
JM: Oh no, it’s not that I wanna wallow in it… but I suppose the live show is quite angry! Maybe that’s the cathartic thing – when we play live we can just let it out. Some people go out in West Derby and have a fight, we just play a gig! Everyone’s got tension in them, though. You’ve got to have that little bit of release.
As things stand currently, Eyesore & The Jinx are firmly part of the collaborative ‘scene’ that has coalesced around Eggy Records, sharing bills regularly with Wild Fruit Art Collective, Jo Mary, Beija Flo and Bill Nickson. It’s a tight, supportive unit that Josh describes as “a bit like a family”, going on to explain how he shared the demos of the new songs with other members of the group before making any decisions. It’s testament to the strength of this connection that he could take on board their criticism and go back to the drawing board with the On An Island recordings. “There is an honesty there, which is healthy,” says Josh. “I’d like to think we could have come from anywhere and we would still have made the same music, and that’s definitely a good thing,” he continues. “But we owe a lot to our mates, too. I think the same thing can be said for a lot of the bands kicking around the city at the minute – and that’s probably why Liverpool’s music scene is as healthy as it is.”