Don’t forget to tell the world that “Punishment Park” was released one year ago yesterday. While some hardcore records lose their luster over time, this one remains stunning. It’s a modern classic. I did this Big Cheese interview with Tom in 2018, it was originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine. Pics by Spencer Borealis, Matt Gabell, Pali, Roman Laris, Natalie Wood, Andrey. https://bigcheesehc.bandcamp.com/
CTM – Yo! How do you remember Big Cheese coming together, and what would you say was the driving force behind the creation of the band?
Tom – Ey up. I was and still am singing in a band called True Vision. My band mate, best mate and love of my life Maegan had recently moved in with me in Armley, a bleak suburb of Leeds where we lived with Andy Jones of The Flex fame and Sky. Maegan had written a bunch of songs that summer and said she think I’d sound good singing on them. We then asked Alex and Louis from Higher Power to join us at practice and Big Cheese became.
CTM – Rest In Pieces definitely seems to be one of the main influences for the band, but I think The Icemen had a larger influence on you when you were writing these riffs. It is very important to note the difference between being influenced and directly copying. Writing the “Sports Day Demo” and “Aggravated Mopery”, what were some of your major influences? What was the inital plan, like “we are gonna do this band influnced by …”.
Tom – Rest In Pieces was most definitely a big influence on the demo, including a lot of other stuff like Fit Of Anger, Life’s Blood and then incorporating the d-beats from Cro-Mags etc. We started writing Icemen style Ozzy Osbourne riffs and more metallic stuff akin to Crumbsuckers later on when writing the 7”. When anybody asked, I think we’d just say we started a band like Cro-Mags haha.
CTM – You released the 7 inch last September (2017), it has been out long enough. What were people’s reactions to it? How do you feel about the responses you have been getting? What was the funniest reaction? What is one review or criticism you are most proud of?
Tom – Genuinely, I can’t say I’ve read or heard much criticism with regards to the 7” which is honestly surprising to me, especially in this day in age. Adam Malik of The Essence Records said he thought our name sucked but ya can’t please everybody. Andrew, Atko, Nicky, Ola, Don Fury and the rest of the band did an amazing job on the record and we’re all proud of it. I’m grateful for the positive reception and opportunities we’ve received subsequently. Funniest reaction is ‘what the fuck does Aggravated Mopery mean?’ They’ll learn. I’m infinitely proud of every bit of feedback we get.
CTM – You are in a couple other bands, how is Big Cheese different from your other bands? Is there something unique about Big Cheese that you weren’t able to do with other bands?
Tom – Big Cheese feels different to other bands we might play in as it seems there’s something in it for someone from any walk of life; as opposed to being quite aggregated or fitting into a box. It seems to speak to punks, metalheads, skinheads, skaters, whoeverheads. I like that. It’s almost unifying.
CTM – The song called “TCP” is like an apocalyptic picture, dealing with how humanity as a whole is destroying the planet. Most of the people realize this, but some of our leaders don’t seem to have the courage to do much about it or against big business. What do you think about this topic?
Tom – I spent a lot of time writing the lyrics for TCP after we’d come up with the main frame of the song. I guess at the time I was trying to paint a picture of where we were living at the time, without being overly poetic. You can feel every aspect of life being sucked out of the neglected areas where money isn’t being pumped into anymore, where industry has died and the people there just seem to wilt until they’re nothing. The government don’t care, never have and never will and it certainly won’t be long until there’s nothing left, apart from a cockroach and the Aggravated Mopery 7”.
CTM – “Pass the buck.” Can you go more in-depth about the meaning of this song and what it means to you?
Tom – “Pass The Buck” is a funny one. I’d gotten into some stuff with my job at the time and was wrongly accused of something I hadn’t done and was subsequently suspended. I guess the song projected my anger towards big corporations and the notion of being disposable. It’s a dog eat dog world.
CTM – How did you came up with the idea to record the M13 cover song?
Tom – My good friend Edo Zavarella sent me a ton of stuff hidden in the corners of the worldwide web, like Emanon, ESG and Enuf and also included the M13 demo that I’d not heard up until that point. I just thought it was a good homage to the bands and sounds that have influenced us and sounded cool incorporating it into the title track, Aggravated Mopery.
CTM – The design Andy Fletcher and Nicky Rat made for you is one of the sickest illustrations I have ever seen. How important is the aesthetic side of the band to you? How important is the layout, imagery and packaging for Big Cheese?
Tom – I love the artwork and the aesthetic we slowly came into. I think it took us a while to know exactly what we wanted to go for but the collaboration between Andrew Fletcher and Nicky Rat’s work is second to none. I think that aesthetic is particularly important in shaping the way people respond to a band but it should never overshadow the music or become a fashion statement. I’m really happy with what we’ve got going on right now. We slap Nicky’s logo on everything.
CTM – I really love your mafia concept artworks and the continuation of the “Sports Day” artwork for “Aggravated Mopery”. Every time I see the cover of your record, it reminds me of Stephen Graham haha! He played the notorious gangster Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire. What are your favourite movies in this realm and why?
Tom – I’m obsessed with all things mafia and the mafioso idea for the artwork just felt right. Especially with the name Big Cheese. Admittedly, I haven’t seen beyond the first episode of Boardwalk Empire but I love Godfather, Goodfellas, Once Upon A Time In America, A Bronx Tale, obviously The Sopranos. I couldn’t tell you exactly why I love those things but the satirical elements and underlying humour intertwined with violence and dark subject matter makes for great entertainment. Noir has gotta be my favourite genre of film.
CTM – Who is the big cheese in the band and why?
Tom – I think I’ve become accustomed to being the Big Cheese in the band, front persons usually do. I like steering the vehicle.
CTM – A few weeks ago the band released this biblical “NWOBHC FM” session on tape. The set mixes up songs from your 2016 Sports Day Demo and 2017’s Aggravated Mopery 7″. How did you came up with the idea of playing a live radio session?
Tom – Ola from QCHQ asked us if we wanted to do a radio show and live set when we were in London just after New Year. We were there for our record release show and did both in one weekend.
CTM – I really love listening to live sets and radio sets. What do you think, was it any different playing a show and playing a live set on the “radio”? How should we imagine this “NWOBHC FM” set?
Tom – I’m exactly the same, listening to a band live and especially a hardcore band conveys the energy you expect and grow to love from live shows. We were tucked away in a freezing cold warehouse in a tiny sound proof room. It was no bigger than a broom cupboard with a set of drums in. I couldn’t actually hear myself back when singing so shot out my voice pretty badly. It was a sick experience nonetheless and we’re all happy with how it came out! Even if a little embarrassed of the interview haha. When pressing the tape, we decided to put the demo originally dubbed to 50 on the B side which gave people an opportunity to own a physical copy of that too.
CTM – Your session was the first episode of the “NWOBHC FM” series. There is a clear parallel between the WNYU’s Crucial Chaos and the “New Wave of British Hardcore FM”. What are your favourite WNYU radio sets and why?
Tom – The Outburst and Side By Side one. Just captures perfectly the essence of both bands. Both hard as fuck and keeps that spirit alive.
CTM – You are wearing a “United Blood” tee on the cover of “Live on NWOBHC FM” cassette. When the band released “United Blood”, they started using the term “hardcore” because they wanted to separate AF from the druggy and artsy punk scene. Content, lyrics and message wise why do you think this record is exponentially important?
Tom – United Blood is obviously one of the four greatest 7”s that came out of NYC in 1983 and probably laid the foundation for NYHC as everybody knows it today. “We’re fighting in the streets, trying to be free. They say the regime will save us all. It’s anti-social and gonna fall”. Still relevant. “You think you’ve got everything, but really you’ve got nothing”. Need I say more? Sound wise, there’s no contest. It’s sloppy as hell but it’s raw and you wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s a product of the time but still bears a lot of relevance to society today. Antidote- Thou Shalt Not Kill is still my no. 1 though.
CTM – What makes a hardcore guitarist good in your opinion? What guitarist in UK hardcore today has the best moves?
Tom – Guitarists with all the gear and no idea are a turn off for me. I think the ability to play fast and hard is a must. If you can shred it’s definitely a bonus. Rhythm is key. I’d have to say Louis. He’s got a sick stage style. Foxy in The Flex too. CP cap over the eyes and destroying a Charvel.
CTM – If Big Cheese needed a third guitarist, would the band consider bringing Dave Murray or Rob Echeverria in?
Tom – Rob Echeverria no doubt. His solos are insane, especially in Straight Ahead. A real deal hard rock guitarist and wears a vest or is shirtless at all times. He also played in Helmet for a while and there’s a vid on YouTube of that somewhere which is sick.
CTM – If Big Cheese could play a bill with British bands from the 70s and 80s, which bands would be on the bill?
Tom – Stiff Little Fingers, Motörhead, GBH, Ultraviolent, Slaughter Of The Dogs.
CTM – Thanks for your time. Any closing thoughts, shout outs or words of encouragement?
Tom – Thanks for taking the time to interview me and for the interesting questions. Keep spreading the gospel and shout out NWOBHC for keeping the punk in hardcore. See you in Europe this summer with NYHC’s Illusion. Oosh.