Giving Up the Fight

The lead singer of Art Brut reflects on a career spent being a real dick to other bands.

I’m the singer in a band called Art Brut. For the last four years, we’ve been on what I would call a break, but the music industry likes to call a “hiatus.” This happened for a number of reasons, some of them happy (I became a father), some of them inevitable (after being in the band for ten years, two members left to pursue other things), and some of them terrible (I nearly died of peritonitis).

For a long time before the break, Art Brut was all-consuming. I spent years either touring, writing songs, or showing off in the pub about being in a band. I lived and breathed Art Brut—it was an integral part of my personality. I was Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT. The surname FROM ART BRUT may as well have been added to my passport. I’m not even a tiny bit embarrassed about that—part of the fun of being in a band is letting it consume you totally. What is the point of creating art if you are not going to fully immerse yourself in it?

I became a living, breathing caricature of myself. I was Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT, aka the man who sits down at discos when he hears a lyric in a song he doesn’t like, Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT, the man who tells the bouncers he’s going to block the fire exits and start a fire because the DJ is playing the Stone Roses, Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT whose record label gets his band a prestigious gig in front of a room full of advertising executives and, instead of using it to make some revenue,  ‘jokingly’ calls them all a pack of cunts, Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT who, when he receives an intervention letter from a bandmate telling him he is out of control, corrects the grammar with a red pen and returns it to them—and I loved every minute of it. The trouble with becoming a living, breathing caricature of yourself is, of course, that there is very little time for self-reflection. Luckily, fatherhood (and a ruptured colon) gave me that time, and what I’ve realized is that, on top of everything else, I was kind of a dick to lots of other bands.

The power of hindsight has made me realize that I had a variety of motivations for being a dick. Sometimes I was envious of other bands’ fame; sometimes I straight-up didn’t like someone. On one occasion, I thought I was holding a grudge on behalf of a friend and spent a night referring to the very nice lead singer of Hot Hot Heat, to his face, as “that man that wrote ‘Bandages’” due to some slight I thought he had inflicted on Art Brut’s guitar player, Jasper, years previously. It turned out he hadn’t and it was just a dream I’d had. He was incredibly nice about it all. He might even have been taking it is a compliment, and not as my pathetically trying to call him out on being a one-hit wonder. “Bandages” is a great song. I’d be OK with somebody calling me the man that wrote “Formed A Band” all night, too.

Some of my prickishness still feels justified—like the time I took a pop at Bloc Party because they complained about Oasis ripping off other bands. This was quite an unoriginal observation anyway, but especially when Bloc Party’s then-single sounded quite a lot like “Damaged Goods” by Gang of Four. Bloc Party was also ripping off music from other bands—just from a different time period. If anything, it would have been negligent of me not to point that hypocrisy out! I said something along the lines of, “Bloc Party can complain about Oasis all they like, but their new single is still just nonsense about helicopters and chocolate sung over someone else’s riff.” Doing so in an interview did get me punched in the head by Kele, the band’s singer, and then he went on national television and called me fat (as I pointed out at the time that is the kind of comment that killed Karen Carpenter) but that transgression is probably the one I regret the least.

Unfortunately, not all my altercations were that satisfying. The times that I’ve started beefs out of jealousy are the worst to relive in my head. The memory that makes me cringe the most is when, after a show in LA that had not gone that well for us, we ended up in a bar with the Hives. They’d just played a much bigger, sold-out venue, which irked my petty, insecure lead-singer ego. Pelle put on a pair of sunglasses and jovially asked me how they looked on him. I responded, “I think they would suit a much younger man.” and then stormed off before he had a chance to reply. Sorry, Pelle. You looked amazing in those sunglasses. I was jealous because my band clearly thought you were cooler than me, I’d had a shit night, and you were surrounded by girls and fans. I was in a bad place, so I was being mean for meanness’ sake.  

I don’t know if you’d call it the flipside to being jealous, as that’s not quite what it was, but most of the time, my dickishness came down to snobbiness—a belief that we were creating proper art and were “real indie,” and that if you didn’t fall in line with what we did, your group was lesser than us. Whatever you want to call it, it was still very much powered by my (often fragile) ego.

During a recent house-clean, I came across an article I had written for FILTER in 2005. They’d asked me to write about the British music scene, so I neatly divided all the music in the country into two camps: “Crackheads” and “Gang of Fours,” having decided Art Brut was the only British band who did not fall into these two categories. What I meant was that, at the time there seemed to be two factions going on: an Art School Movement—bands like the Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand, the Long Blondes and Maximö Park—or, the Gang of Fours and then there were the “Crackheads”. It’s the “Crackheads” I feel the most remorse about being rude to.

Labelling someone a “Crackhead” is a very dickish thing to do to begin with, when I just meant they were part of a very English garage-rock revival. London was full of bands that were enthralled with the Libertines, almost all of them signed to Alan McGee’s label, Poptones. They all looked like lovably scruffy rogues (admittedly, with just a touch of drugginess about them), and, every night of the week, they seemed to be playing in East London—the hip place to be, and where most of the fun seemed to be happening.

What I was trying to say, I think, was that my band didn’t really fit in anywhere. We weren’t really stylish, or ‘Angular’ enough to be part of the art school scene, we rocked out a bit too much, but we were also too self aware and unusual to be part of the straight ahead garage rock crowd.

Some people’s idea of fun might have been happening in East London, but I knew I was not relaxed enough to enjoy it. I did occasionally like  being south of the river in New Cross with the art school kids, but that was quite far away. So I spent most of my time sat in the Dublin Castle in Camden, an inverted snob, drinking Guinness, steadfastly refusing to venture into East London, and criticising the “crackheads” saying things like:

“All those bands are hyped-up utter shit.”

“Their songs aren’t about anything. Their music is not art—they are idiots.”

This, despite my not actually knowing any of them.

When someone succeeded in dragging me out of Camden and I crossed paths with bands like Thee Unstrung or the Paddingtons, I’d roll my eyes at them or glare and say awful things just within their earshot. For what reason? Because I didn’t like their music? I barely knew it. Because I thought they were aping the Libertines? So what? That first Libertines album is a fucking classic. Because I thought they didn’t like the same bands? Or appreciate fanzine culture? Because they didn’t go off on improvisational tangents about art during their sets? Yeah…probably those last few. I regret that now. I would have had a lot more fun if, I’d relaxed a little and not applied my rules of HOW THINGS SHOULD BE to every band that I met, and enjoyed each band on their own terms.

We were all just people in our late teens/early twenties whom I’m sure started bands for at least a few of the same reasons: to make friends, have a good time, show off, express ourselves, and rock the fuck out. I imagine many of us worked shit jobs and scraped cash together for rehearsals and instruments. Who the fuck was I to say their music didn’t count because it didn’t fit into the lo-fi punk aesthetic I admired? I am embarrassed about how petty and small-minded I was. I wasted so much time trying not to like some people that, if I actually had a drink with, I probably would have found I had a lot more in common with than not. (Even though I was probably the last person they wanted to drink with at the time, and I doubt they cared about what I thought.) But, yeah. Sorry to all of those bands.

Art Brut have nearly finished our new album. Maybe it’s because I’ve reached an age where I’d rather have new friends than new enemies, but when this record comes out and I’m off on tour, and hopefully doing some interviews again, I’m going to try and be a much nicer person this time. It’s entirely possible that the old Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT is only a spotlight away from coming back. I’m almost certain I’ll be angry about some mega-successful band’s terrible lyrics at some point, or at the fact that if, you strip away all the production from an Arcade Fire album there is literally nothing left, and if I ever go to an Indie Disco again, I’m sure I’ll be filled with rage at the inexplicable success of The Stone Roses. Art Brut are not going to suddenly turn into a bunch of fucking hippies and start loving everything. There will always be a part of that egotistical “indie witchfinder general” (as FILTER described me) lurking in me somewhere, no matter how much I fight it. But I can at least try to become Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT, the man that maybe does not like some aspects of your band, but will try to keep it to himself, Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT, who makes new friends, Eddie Argos FROM ART BRUT, the man who politely listens to other people’s advice and sometimes—and I’ve not changed that much, so I really do mean very, very occasionally—takes it onboard.

Defining yourself by loudly and strongly opposing something else is a young man’s game, though it is easy. I’d like to think I am better than that now, and I’ve always enjoyed performing Art Brut’s  less cynical songs more anyway. I’m sure it is possible to immerse myself in my own art without being prickly to other people—not even to Bloc Party, whose last single sounded like a terrible, unoriginal…

* Puts fist in mouth *

* Steps away from keyboard for 10 minutes *

See? It’s going to be easy.


Eddie Argos is a lo-fi punk rock motherfucker, the singer in Art Brut, and a writer and painter living in Berlin. He is quite tall.