An interview with English
by Oliver Sheppard
I really like Internal Autonomy. This dark British punk band began around 1986 as the original wave of anarcho-punk was receding. The band continued to release records into the early 1990s and within the past few years the band’s two core members, Al and Nix, have gotten back together with a host of new material and covers of bands like Rudimentary Peni and Alternative. The band play a mix of anarcho-punk and gothy postpunk that reminds at turns of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Rubella Ballet, and Blood and Roses. Nix’s vocals can vary between sounding like Siouxsie Sioux, Eva O. of the Superheroines, and Anja Huwe of Xmal Deutschland. For all that, however, the band maintains a revolutionary, DIY punk spirit and approach. Internal Autonomy should be much better known than they are, and this interview is one small step towards remedying that.
Below, I got to ask Al and Nix what bands inspired them, what they think about filesharing and how it has impacted DIY/punk culture, as well as the anarchist philosophy that motivates them, and other things. Enjoy.
Internal Autonomy interviewed by Oliver in August, 2012.
Oliver: To get some basic information out of the way, when did you all start, what town was this in, and who was in the band then (1980s) versus now? And also, what instruments do they play?
Nix: IA really arose out of another band Al was part of. Al and I met at a gig in Frimley – where I was selling “Infection” zines with the writer, my other half at the time. Al came up and asked if he’d do a review in the zine. We became friends and one day Al rang and asked if I’d like to sing in the band – so I had a go… still do – lol. We began recording on an old karaoke machine, in Al’s room in Camberley, which swiftly morphed into a recording studio. Who is in the band??? Anyone. That’s always been the objective, which is why there have been so many varied and talented people passing through and leaving their mark. But, for the most part it has been Al and I as the driving forces. Drum and voice – rhythm and harmony?
Al: And the second time around: I’d digitally remastered our existing recordings in 2004, and contacted Nikki (who I hadn’t seen for like 12 years or so) to see if she wanted copies – there starts a very long and personal story, but in short and where music is concerned we wanted to work together again, originally under the artist name Nix. Some time after the Discography CDs came out Nikki said we might as well record under the IA name, and start involving other people, making it more of a ‘band’ again, and much like it had been originally. I agreed it was a good idea. Shortly afterwards, Yoggy, guitarist from back in the day, contacted us through MySpace, and he was back in IA for a while, although he has since departed to concentrate on his own material.
Nowadays we are Nikki, Azia, Jenn, and myself. Back in the day I played drums, now I engineer the recordings & do most of the instruments, Jenn does additional guitars & instruments, Azia & Nikki both do the vocals & most of the lyrics. Beyond exchanging a few comments or ideas, we don’t really confer very much at all; everyone does their own thing, mostly we agree on what’s good & what isn’t. If someone says, or does, something somebody else doesn’t like there’s no objecting, censoring, or bitching. We could argue it down to a point of compromise, but that just leaves everyone dissatisfied. We’re not a fucking democracy – you’ll get the opportunity to do something ‘your way’, or differently another time. It’s about respect.
Oliver: Who chose the name “Internal Autonomy” and what does it mean or signify to you all?
Nix: Mark of Infection zine, really, and we all thought it sounded good as ‘IA’ too. To me it’s both microcosmic and macrocosmic – we all have autonomy in ourselves, in our lives, our choices, our decisions. These factors are personal, within each of us – that self governance is our greatest strength both together, and alone.
Al: It’s like the line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.” It’s not anything to do with Kings or Royalty, it means you are, always, your own master – no matter what constraints are placed on you, in your mind you are always free, always yourself. From that starting point you can, when possible, spread that freedom outwards, but the bottom line is this: No fucker on earth can ever take it from you. They can take everything else, you get me? But as long that inner will persists: I win.
Oliver: I think you all started in 1986, when I think most folks’ perception is the heyday of the anarcho scene was going into decline in England. Is this an accurate perception? What was starting Internal Autonomy like in 1986, what bands were around that you played with or that you felt were a supportive part of the punk scene back then?
Al: Yes, it was definitely in decline. There was still a scene, but all that bitching & ‘holier than thou’ bollocks had taken its toll.
What was it like forming Internal Autonomy? I dunno; what’s it like to fix breakfast, make coffee, roll a ciggy, or have a wank? It’s just something you do, a part of my life, & who I am. I’d been in a string of bands for like 5 years or something, and been into Punk for longer. It just seemed natural to do something you enjoy. There were a lot of supportive, or positive people at that time as I remember it, both in bands and not – doing zines, or distros or T-shirt printing, or whatever – so it wasn’t like you were doing something out of the ordinary, there was a whole network of people into similar things. I can’t possibly list them all, but those I knew in the Irish scene like Danny & Simone stand out, as does Jen, & Bliss the Pocket Opera, The Charles, The Apostles, Rat & Nick (Napalm Death), Goggs of BBP Records/Tapes, Gee from Crass, Dick Lucas, Gregor Beckmann who gave us our ‘first break’ vinyl-wise, and tons of others, not forgetting the people who wrote to us from every corner of the globe.
Nix: It felt obvious/natural, it’s what I am – set me down at any point in history and I think I’d be much the same. The odd thing with me is I came to anarcho-punk through a side-door and didn’t discover it really until about 84/85. It seemed fairly thriving to me, although sadly tainted with puritanical ideologies. I have been a straight-edge/vegan/feminist – I’m not now. Now I’m only human – just like everyone else. Age has opened my eyes to the realisation that you can not have liberty in a framework that imposes morality – that’s all.
Oliver: Obviously, I think Internal Autonomy are really incredible, and am a little surprised you aren’t more well known. It’s even more incredible that you all are still producing music over 25 years later. Your sound reminds me of bands like Rubella Ballet, Lost Cherees, and Blood and Roses. Do you feel it’s accurate to place you all in that sort of context of those bands? Were these some of your favorite bands? If not, what bands were your favorites, then and now?
Al: Cheers, mate. Well, a lot of our tunes feature heavily chorused guitars, tribal drums, and a screaming woman – what the fuck am I gonna say – ‘No!’, lol. Joking aside, I think we all share a Siouxsie influence, basically. That IA are not more well known is probably our fault; we never toured, we have a pretty diverse musical range (for a punk band), and we have a knack of telling people the truth that they’d rather not hear – but it’s not like we were trying to win any contests, so it’s cool.
Rubella & Co. were and are among my favourite bands, as are Bad Brains, Discharge, Les Modules Etranges, Mikey Dread, Cranes, Cornell Campbell, Rudimentary Peni, Black Flag, Nicolette, Cult of Luna, Massive Attack, White Lies, Crass, Rollins, Dead Kennedys, Roots Manuva, Sex Pistols, Penetration, Goldie, Apolitical, Aphex Twin, Scientist, Mad Professor, Icons of Filth, Sly & Robbie, King Tubby, Jack Off Jill, The Disrupters, Linkin Park, Tanya Stephens, Subhumans, Colour of Fire, Portishead, Santogold, Dennis Brown, Amebix, Killing Joke, Iggy Pop, Augustus Pablo, Richard Wagner, Jimi Hendrix, Ini Kamoze, The Chameleons, ATV, Big Black, Metric, The Ruts, Orbital, and a load of others besides.
Nix: The IA sound is always whatever the people involved in it’s production feel like and are able to create at that time. But, yes back then favourite bands for me were; Crass, Posion Girls, Sisters of Mercy, Lost Cherrees, Psychedelic Furs, X-ray Spex, The Mob, Zounds, Blyth Power, Big Black, PIL, Sonic Youth, Souxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Chumbawamba, Anthrax (UK), Killing Joke, Virgin Prunes, Dead Can Dance, Swans, …. the list goes on… now; same olds plus “guilty Pleasures” = Marilyn Manson, Evanescence and Cradle of Filth.
Not so guilty 😉 Bat for Lashes, Otep, Muse, Linkin Park, Skindred, Cult of Luna, and so it goes… Bit’s of 90’s dance music have crept in too recently – stuff I couldn’t wrap my head round then but love now. But, basically I love dark, angry, real music that speaks of knowledge you KNOW within yourself. No repressions!
Oliver: I know that you’re considered an anarcho-punk band, and your Facebok page has pictures from the Spanish Revolution of 1936, among other imagery. There are also some graphics with, for example, William Godwin quotes. Is there a particular strand of anarchism you feel is something you all are more attracted to? In America, we have a problem with “anarcho capitalists” going around calling themselves anarchists. But there’s eco- and anarcha-feminism, or anarcho-syndicalism — well, there are are a lot of labels out there. Do you feel any of these apply more than others, and what are the core values you all feel you hold to in Internal Autonomy, regardless of the labels? In other words, what beliefs motivate you, and why?
Nix: For me we are an anarcho-punk band simply because most of our lyrics convey an anarcho principle and we are punk ‘cos we don’t give a shit and do what we please. Not all of the members have been anarchists tho’ – it’s not therefore, a requirement.
Politics is governed by people who need to make living complex for the majority to make gains for themselves, so it has its many shades. Anarchism is not politics – it should not be complicated. The shades are there only because of its encompassing nature of freedom – who needs any other labels. Beliefs that motivate me are amoral and contradictory. I don’t believe any one idea or statement can be made to fit all individuals/cultures/times. Without room to grow nothing can flourish. So I am a pacifist who WILL fight. I am against murder, but pro-choice. I believe in gender equality but, strongly defend my personal choice to enjoy the so called stereotypical side of my female gender. I believe that primary food sources produce the greatest wealth for feeding this planet but, I will on rare occasions eat meat – because in my amorality nothing is or should be taboo. Ultimately I’m Hedonistic and I’m here to live in as much freedom as I can provide for myself and until I am full.
Al: I’m not big on ‘isms’. I know what they all are, what they all mean, & I’m aware of all their possibilities – I just don’t trust ’em. OK, so people want some kinda plan, fine. Plans are great, but there’s no point in making many until you know exactly who & what you are dealing with, and what the conditions are. People make theories, then argue about them. Pointless. It’s like arguing about the method of baking a cake that has the same basic ingredients. Maybe all the methods work, maybe none of them do, maybe one is better than the others, but while you’re stuck there arguing about it nobody’s getting any cake, and nobody’s learning a fucking thing either.
Isms… ever notice how many ‘big theories’ & government policies fall flat on their arses in the real world (leaving those implementing them to simply ‘bash a square peg into a round hole’, against all instinct, common sense or reason – whether they like doing it, or not)? I’m sure Marx thought he’d formulated a pretty fool-proof plan for society, and a theory that covered all the bases – but look what happened to that: Many millions lost their lives and suffered needlessly while Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Pol-Pot & company all obstinately applied theories at all costs to prove it worked. Epic fail.
The same is true of all politics. There’s no one solution, no ‘one size fits all’ way of doing things, This is especially true in any ‘free’ society worthy of the name. I’m not about to tell anyone that they should really be living in a commune, or working in a collective, or existing as a lone egoist. How they live, and how they get shit done, is their choice. They know their situation, needs, desires and local conditions better than I do. I put my faith in human ingenuity, adaptability. I don’t have a problem with any organisational, or practical solution which doesn’t involve subjugation, & a code of unquestioning obedience, etc. I can see no really justifiable reason why any other libertarian should either. Mostly the various strains of anarchism nowadays are about focusing on a particular issue, but it’s not for me, I’m afraid. The world’s got a lot of problems, but I don’t want to obsess on any one of them. I don’t get distracted chasing the latest trendy issue, or injustice. People aren’t perfect, & there will always be problems and things that are wrong, but what really screws things up above all is politics, organised religion, and the monetary system. That’s the issue. That’s what needs changing. A martial artist about to punch through a block of wood doesn’t stand there studying the wood & analysing the grains and fibres in it, or focusing
an any one of them – they focus on the space beyond knowing that that’s where their fist will end up – then it does!
What motivates me, & what do I believe in? I can’t do better than quote some words from our next album: ‘We are as we are born, and glory in our nature. Anything is possible, our imaginations and the physical world are our only true limitations. Our nation is humanity. We harm none that do not harm us. Masterless & Godless, we are beyond all morality, politics & lies. We are not asking for permission.’
Oliver: There’s a recent, very good anarchist punk band, Burnt Cross – have you guys heard them? Are there any bands nowadays you keep track and like a lot? Cress? What are some of your current favourite bands?
Al: Yeah, Burnt Cross are cool. I like a lot of the bands currently around, but I’m into and check a lot of stuff outside of the punk & anarcho spheres. Apolitical, who I mentioned earlier, are also one of my favourites both lyrically & musically.
Nix: Thank you, kinda got the answer to that one before – I’ll listen to anything really as long as it sounds good.
Oliver: In England there are increasing pressures for austerity reform that would cut programs for the poor or workers’ retirement plans. Do you think there’s any contradiction in holding to anarchist values, or in being anti-statist, yet also supporting welfare state reforms like, say, council housing/public housing assistance, and the National Health system? How do you reconcile any seeming contradictions between wanting government supports for the poor, and also being against the government? (I have my own answer to this, but I’m curious what your take on this supposed dilemma is!)
Nix: Contradiction? There shouldn’t be one, we have an obligation to ourselves and others. If we live in a politically constructed society – it makes no difference, those individual obligations remain.
Al: I personally don’t have any dilemma concerning this: State institutions like those you mention exist as a supposed attempt to compensate for the results of economic injustice caused by the monetary wealth & power that the State itself serves, protects and shares in. I don’t really ‘support’ the welfare state any more than I’d ‘support’ some cunt coshing me, taking my wallet, but sparing a few moments after to dress my wounds. The NHS is not ‘free’ health care, a council estate is not ‘free’ housing, a state school is not ‘free’ education, from a monetary or any other perspective. Anyone who’s ever had assistance from these fine institutions knows just how bloody imperfect they can be (despite the efforts of many dedicated individuals who work in them), so if we support them, to the extent that we do, it’s because there aren’t really any alternatives – unless you can afford them, which brings me right back to where I started on this topic, lol.
Oliver: You all have a 2xCD complete discography CD, which is amazing. I have noticed a lot of songs are on Youtube. Do you all have any problem with folks uploading your songs onto youtube, or posting Mediafire links to your stuff on blogs? There are some blogs that have some rare old cassettes, and I have to admit I have downloaded them and enjoyed them! How do you feel about the proliferation of free music file sharing this way nowadays? It seems like it’s made previously obscure bands, like Part 1 or Brigandage, surprisingly easy to find, and introduces them to new fans, but there;s also not as much special about being one of the few people “in the know” regarding underground bands. Do you have any thoughts on all this and how it is changing youth culture?
Nix: Thank you. From all who have been part of it’s whole – personally I have mixed feelings about the “sharing” of IA’s tunes. On the whole I think it’s generally positive so I wouldn’t knock it. However, sometimes it’s a real pain to have put up a new track say on Facebook and then find someone’s just lifted it off to Youtube with a graphic which we don’t think is up to much, or is way out of date – without even a message or anything. I find that hard – not ‘cos I’d want to stop anyone – do what you please – but because I suppose I find it a bit underhand. We are right here; talk to us, we welcome any input.
We don’t have an issue with profit; we are just driven to create for its own reward (although that still costs us money). If you enjoy it, if it touches your own knowledge then share at will – but it’s nice to be a part of that process too and we do need to at least cover our outlay. Back in the 80’s it was no different, really. We all copied and shared tapes (which is another artistic issue for us with some of the versions now available taken from these tapes – ‘cos we have much better quality versions on CD’s taken from the orginal reel to reel tapes – and to us the sound of the music kind of matters). Also, back then if you liked a band, you wrote to them. People wrote to IA from all over the world about all manner of things – it was a process of sharing – soaping of stamps being the only draw-back – lol. Now it should be even easier to share, but instead I see a kind of sharing that’s more like a neighbour creeping in to borrow some sugar in the middle of the night with out saying “Hello.” Daft! I would have given it to them anyway, plus a cup of tea, and a chat. As to being “in the know,” maybe that’s the problem, an elitist secrecy. What a shame. After all, knowledge is power, so share the enthusiasm, but please without ripping off the creativity – then we are stronger in number.
Al: Cheers again! Glad you like the Discography and cassettes. I’m not sure how much free music downloads have changed youth culture, mostly because that culture has changed quite a lot over the past 20 years anyway. It seems to me that gaming has taken the place that music used to occupy. Records were the No 1 thing when I was a teenager, I spent hours blasting them out in my bedroom like kids today spend hours blasting Zombies, or whatever. I don’t think this is a ‘bad’ thing, I enjoy gaming myself, and those that have more involved story lines encourage you to question and explore social interaction, ethics, choices, freedom, control (and their possible consequences) at least as much as punk ever did. (Albeit ‘virtually’ – we had to do that shit in real life with real people who were physically in your face. Much harder!). Anyway, mostly I’m in favour of free music sharing. I think it’s cool that rare or otherwise unavailable recordings – old or new – are widely available. It’s cool that people can use it to get heard, or give someone something new to listen to without them having to pay for it. It’s all good. BUT I can’t condone a situation where an artist, or independent label, etc. – whatever their style – lose out, or go bust because most of the people who like/want their tunes have already downloaded them all for nothing! Art/music isn’t ‘free’; it uses property, resources, materials, goods and a great many labour hours. Would you seriously expect a carpenter or plumber to do a job of work for you just ‘for the love of it’? Would you condone the person/s who made your new pair of cool shoes not being paid, because – y’know – ‘art is free’? Of course not, and if they are paid for what they do does that make them capitalists? No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t make those producing music capitalists either.
This needs to be said because actual capitalists are very few in number (lol, which in itself is almost a definition of what capitalism means). To be a capitalist you have to be like, a corporate CEO, or investment banker, or on a Board of Directors. Anyone else who produces something as a means of existence – musical or not – even if they are self-emplyed/have their own business is essentially a worker. They produce, or offer a service, to survive. I also get sickened by those in the anarcho-punk scene accusing people of being capitalists without any justification whatsoever and in total contradiction to this glaringly obvious truth (like all that shit against Steve Ignorant not so long ago, for example). The ‘decline’ in the mid-80’s you mentioned was entirely the fault of just those kinda people. They contribute nothing useful or positive with this kinda thing, and they are not righteous pillars of the community (like we’d even want any!) – they are simply trolling.
Debating or arguing with a Troll only feeds it: The only way to deal with them is to ignore them completely or break their fucking legs – either one works for me! I’ve already lived through the results once already, so forgive me if I don’t just stand mute while it all happens over again – people should learn from past mistakes. Like it or not all music production is an industry, if some people opt to fund their creativity with another form of work/income then that’s their choice, fair play to ’em – but they’re not ‘pure’ or ‘better’, and they’ve no right to criticise others based on that choice.
Oliver: One of my favorite questions to ask recently: If you all had to choose 3, and ONLY 3, LPs to take on a deserted island, to listen to for the rest of your lives, what 3 LPs would those be, and why?
Nix: Al and I are only off to this deserted island if we can go together. OK! ‘Cos we think this question is the hardest and we need to share our choices: Killing Joke – Killing Joke, Muse – Black Holes and Revelations, Deadcandance – Serpents Egg. Why? ‘Cos we came down to no matter how good other albums were these choices had to be in our opinion perfect and ones you could always listen to without tiring of them ever.
Al: Crass – Feeding of the 5000. Mikey Dread – WWIII. Cult of Luna – Salvation. Also Killing Joke’s first album. I’m cheating cos me and Nikki double up on this one, and if we’re going to a desert island then we’re going together, capice? They’re each one timeless and hit me like a ten-tonne truck when I first heard them. Also, I don’t believe anything could have been added or subtracted that would’ve made them any better.
Oliver: Did you all ever play with bands like Joyce McKinney Experience, KUKL, Dog Faced Hermans, or The Ex? What are the most memorable shows you’ve played, and who were they with?
Al: All good bands, but sadly IA never played gigs with them. If we’d have been able to get to Paris last April it would have been the most memorable show we’d ever played… but we didn’t. Epic Fail.
Nix: Nope. IA has always tended to be predominately a recording band really – but, that could change watch this space.
Oliver: Do you all have any upcoming plans for any new LPs, a 7″, etc.? I noticed you have a Reverbnation profile with a lot of songs, including covers of songs by The Mob and Alternative, and others/ Will any of these come out on CD or anything?
Al: Yep, a new album titled ‘Ferox’ is nearly finished, and will have about 72 mins of tunes on a CD in a DVD digipak with accompanying booklet. Our Disgography is still available – link available on www.reverbnation/internalautonomy, & Front Cover, amongst others
Nix: Yes, lots of plans – the new album will feature those new tunes you speak of plus many others, just need to raise the £’s to get it out there now. Plus we’ve started work on more new stuff and have a plan to do a double 10” vinyl – but again £££££ – we’re going to try out something which looks like a good idea in terms of barter in this modern world, we hope to use Indiegogo as a way of getting the money together for Ferox, plus making a bit on it’s sale for benefit – as a band we’ve always tried do this and what ever else is left over – if any (not usual in our case) will get ploughed back in to the next project – simple! That’s why we have a horror of people ripping and sharing the new tunes because we are DIY and there’s no one else to pick up our tab and we certainly aren’t capitalists – =D – that’s the reality. But it would be great if some of the people who value what we produce were able to make a pledge to get Ferox out there, and in turn we will make sure they get something worth having back.
Oliver: Thank you so much! Is there anything else you would like to plug, or let readers know about? I love the sound you all have. My ow take on it,a and what intrigued me about your sound or what drew me to it, were elements I could hear of deathrock like 45 Grave or the Superheroines, but at other times it’s a lot like the early 80s anarchist bands in the Crass Records orbit. I think it’s really cool and inspiring that you all are still making music. It’s awesome to be able to be in touch with you this! Thank you so much.
Nix: Only thank you for taking the time and interest to put this together. Oh and keep a eye out for us on Indiegogo if you are with us in this venture – love Nix ;* x
Al: Many thanks for the interview. Good luck with everything, Oliver.
The band’s 2xCD “Discography” CD is available on Front Cover Records, whose official page is here.