This year has been a whirlwind for change – from the outbreak of a global pandemic, to vital protests pushing for positive change in racial inequality – and one of the bands leading the charge are punk duo Bob Vylan. The pair’s new EP, ‘We Live Here’ sees them deftly confront racism, police brutality and injustice head-on across a rapid-fire eight tracks.
“We’ve been trying to tell you that shit’s fucked up for a long time but nobody wanted to hear,” frontman and producer Bobby Vylan states. “[Now] everyone’s looking for something new, and apparently this is the new thing to report on and talk about, you know? So it does feel very…” He pauses. “I’ll be honest man, it feels pretty shitty.”
Having been a band since 2017, who they are or how they sound hasn’t changed one iota, so the recent sudden thrust of attention feels like a double-edged sword. Even over the phone today, Bobby’s juggling sorting out re-pressing their snapped-up debut project (“It’s long enough to be an album, I’m just not necessarily man enough to get the balls to call it an album”) amidst a whole hoard of other things. They’re “fiercely independent”, he explains.
“It feels pretty shitty to talk about these things… let me rephrase that.” He collects himself. “It feels shitty to have people that we brought this music to, and they didn’t care, suddenly caring. It feels very shitty.
“There are definitely some blogs and magazines that we found ourselves on in the last couple of weeks that we could not get on for the life of us just a month ago or two ago, you know before George Floyd was killed. It also feels very disingenuous, the attention, some of it, to a certain degree, which is quite disheartening, but it’s to be expected.”
Double-edge aside, Bobby isn’t wasting his new-found spotlight, be it previously declined interviews, press or national radio play.
“They didn’t want to play it, but then they played it a couple of days ago – that feels shitty, but it doesn’t feel shitty for me,” he considers. “I feel shitty for them, because now… now I know who you are. Now I know that you’ve exposed yourself as just seizing the opportunity to align yourself with it because God forbid somebody calls you a racist for not speaking about it or doing something.”
The mix of bubbling anger in his voice is quelled by the reality he’s always lived in. “I mean, look, I can equate that experience to this thing that happened in my life,” he continues. “When [someone] just wouldn’t rent me that house or I didn’t get the job, and I feel like it was because you know I went in there with locks or my afro out or whatever it is.”
All of these current societal moments can so easily be seen as advantageous to the “brands posting up black squares but not actually saying anything,” but that’s not Bob Vylan.
This band is a conduit for saying things. Just listen to ‘We Live Here’, the duo’s – completed by Bob13 (drums and spiritual inspiration) – raging attack of the simple-minded, right-wing attitude that’s so flimsy it’s pulled apart by the mouth-agape truth of “we didn’t appear out of thin air, we live here!” Their debut project is rife with targeted lyrics that cut to the core of the matter, artfully dodging notions of unrepentant anger and, instead, laying the truth down like a winning hand.
The musical element to Bob Vylan is a cataclysmic eruption of grime and punk, living as they always should – taking society in a righteous forward motion.
“We’ve been talking about these issues, topics of alienation and persecution: sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, and obviously we have a very first-hand experience of what it’s like to be marginalised because of the colour of our skin; or because the income of our household or the area that we live in or [where we] grow up or whatnot.”
He mentions that along with understanding, his marginalisation comes with “solidarity with the LGBTQ community, and women’s struggle; other kinds of aspects of marginalised people, other struggles that we don’t suffer from, but we have suffered too.”
It’s this reality which has caused ‘We Live Here’ to become the Bob Vylan calling card, and nothing could sound better as the world stands in the glorious promise of ruin and rebuilding. Protests and societal change for the umpteenth decade in a row, the electric feeling in the air is palpable. All across TV, computer and phone screens, outside your window, there are signs of a world justly begging for change. People are finally “seeing that racism exists and classism exists, and the world is not this perfect utopia for everybody.”
Bobby’s time growing up was split between Ipswich and London, so he’s experienced first-hand what life’s like in both a smaller, change-resistant town and a vast, fast-moving city with its swirling combination of gentrification and survival.
“I think slightly smaller towns, it’s very different from growing up in the city. Obviously, you realise that when you grow up between the two. People hold on to this idea of what Britain is. It’s very prevalent in those smaller places, even though the town is run down. The town looks like shit. The town has not moved on. They’re still holding on to this thing of like, ‘This is England, and it’s a fucking great place!’ but like, I don’t know that it is.
“And then you go to the city, and everything just looks like shit but like a little more… a little scarier,” he continues. “To me, it’s the same, but amplified, because in Ipswich for example, there is a huge drug problem – a huge heroin, opioid problem, that just goes unmentioned. You realise this is people’s way of living in these smaller towns and smaller cities; you turn a blind eye to the undesirables. Whereas I think in London, the undesirables, you just can’t turn a blind eye to them because they live opposite you. [You’re] more neighbourly with the people that you know society claims to be the ‘the scary underbelly’. It’s not so scary.”
“After all,” he concludes, “we’re all just trying to do the best that we can. And like I say, we’re not all starting at the same starting line.”
Taken from the August issue of Upset. Bob Vylan’s EP ‘We Live Here’ is out now.