Liverpool’s finest off the wall jazz-pronk band talk to Shaun Ponsonby about the punk-prog divide, humour in music and “experimental thrash comedy avant-garde punkjazz”.
The punk-prog divide is one that BBC Four documentaries like to make a big fuss over.
Every other week, they’ll wheel out professional bore Paul Morley with a thesaurus just off camera to tell you in the most ironically pretentious way why prog was rubbish and punk was great and how punk just killed prog in its tracks…yada, yada, yada.
Of course, that’s not really true. If punk killed prog, why did Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd have their biggest successes long after the Sex Pistols had imploded? How could Marillion have been so big? How did Steven Wilson get a top five album this year?
Unstoppable Sweeties Show somehow manage to balance out their punk and prog influences in a way that plays to the strengths of both genres. They are inventive and intricate, whilst also being energetic and in your face. You don’t quite know where they are going to take you, and you’re always surprised when you get there.
Wrapped up in a ribbon of Zappa-esque surreal humour – which goes a long way to helping it work as well as it does – they come across as a band who are serious about what they do, without taking themselves too seriously.
We spoke to band members Gareth Wyn Jones and Probert Dean about punk, prog, humour and…capes.
PS: Could you tell us the origin of the name Unstoppable Sweeties Show?
G: The band was initially going to be called “Sweeties”. We had an idea to make and release a comic book called Unstoppable Sweeties Show featuring the members of the band, and changed the band name to match. The comic never happened and now we have a bizarre, awkward and meaningless name.
PS: For the life of me, I couldn’t describe your music to people. How would you describe it?
G: It’s just music we enjoy, genre wasn’t something I considered too much before putting pen to paper. Labeling our music feels like giving up flexibility we currently have to take it in whatever direction we want to. We’ve mainly been described as prog-punk by our fans, but we’ve also been accused of being “disrespectful to punk” so who knows? Maybe we should leave that side of things for other people to decide.
P: There’s an obscure genre called “zolo” that fits us nicely but no one’s heard of it so “experimental thrash comedy avant-garde punkjazz” will have to do. Otherwise I just call it “World Music slash Rap” to confuse people.
PS: You have listed both punk and prog as influences on the band. How do you reconcile those two forms, given that they are often seen as polar opposites?
P: The great punk-prog divide! They’re not so different really. They both involve guitars, drums and singing! And they both set out to challenge preconceptions. It comes down to stereotyping. Punk has a rep for being working class and rebellious while prog is seen as middle class and indulgent. But those aren’t diametrically opposed concepts. If YouTube comments are to be believed then Green Day isn’t punk and Yes is the only real prog band, but in reality influences come from all over and genres intermingle constantly. Combining two different kinds of rock music isn’t really that difficult or groundbreaking!
PS: There has been a lot of talk recently about the supposed return of prog thanks to Steven Wilson’s success. Do you think it ever really went away?
G: Prog is an approach, not a fixed style. It may have led to what we understand to be “mainstream prog rock”, but it also created: Art rock, avant garde, jazz fusion, post-punk, even math rock. And when you look at how the characteristics of these genres overlap, often these labels can be interchangeable with prog. Its aim to take music in a new direction is still very much alive, and not just in rock music.
P: The only thing that went away is the Tolkien-inspired lyrics and capes. Not that I’ve got anything against capes. Bring back capes!
PS: I’ve noticed that despite the massively intrinsic nature of your music, there is a lot of humour in there as well. Where does that humour come from, why do you think that is an in important part of what you do?
P: Most music is pretty funny, especially avant-garde music – maybe not deliberately though! Once you realise that you start doing it on purpose. And humour is a big influence on the band too; between us we like Zappa, Weird Al and K-pop.
G: It wasn’t a deliberate choice we made, it just came out naturally as we’re all friends and enjoy making each other laugh. We need to make the most of that because inevitably we will become envious of each other and develop bitter, unspoken rivalries. We’re just starting our second year as a group so we can probably keep this up for at least another six months before we even consider disbanding.
PS: What are your current releases, and what can we look forward to next from Unstoppable Sweeties Show?
G: Our debut album Tuck: A Town with a Cat Mayor was released in July and is available on CD and digital. We’re rehearsing the second album, and it’s already sounding better, heavier and weirder. We’ll be in the studio recording it by the end of the year, weather permitting After that, we plan to record two EPs, one that experiments with free-improv structures and one that explores soundscapes created only by the manipulation of water.
Unstoppable Sweeties Show play Maguire’s Halloween Party on Saturday 28th October at Maguire’s Pizza Bar.
Image from artist’s Facebook page.