Interview with Steve Diggle of The Buzzcocks

After 8 years the veteran English Punk Rock band The Buzzcocks releases a new album called «Sonics In The Soul». In an interview with TRACKS, Steve Diggle, the only original member left, talks about H.G. Wells, Pete Shelley, the pandemic, death and inspiration.

Robert Pally: Your last album «The Way» was released in 2014. What took you so long for a new one?

Steve Diggle: After «The Way» was released we went on tour for at least 2 years. Traveling the world. It took some time to come up with another one. Also, I think Pete (Shelley, who died in 2018) did not want to do anymore albums. So, we just continued touring. But here we are now with a new album. It’s very important to me to keep up with doing new songs.

Robert Pally: «Sonics In The Soul» was recorded during the pandemic. Do the songs reflect this? If yes, in which way?

Steve Diggle: Yes, I wrote it in the pandemic. We recorded it when things were coming out of the pandemic. There are bits of influences on there. You write about what is going on at that time. There are elements and influences of how the world felt, how I felt and everybody else. The song «Don’t Mess With My Brain» is influenced by the pandemic. The pandemic put a cloud on everybody’s mind at that time. The world was in a state of chaos. Also, some nihilistic things were influenced by that. At the same time, I tried to keep on track to make a Buzzcocks album. Being optimistic!

Robert Pally: How did you cope with the pandemic?

Steve Diggle: I was doing fine. Being a musician and a songwriter, you are working isolated all the time anyway. The pandemic gave me more time to look into the songs, time to write them, to consolidate them. It was a moment of self-realization for us all. You had to look inside yourself. As a songwriter you look into yourself anyway. The pandemic went hand in hand with that really. Nothing new for me. Just the world had stopped.

Robert Pally: Which song on «Sonics In The Soul» is your favorite and why?

Steve Diggle: They are all my favorites. You know the whole album is a journey. I tried to make it a classic album. You put it on and then you go on the whole journey. There could be a lot of singles from the album. You could cherry-pick them. At the end of the album you should have the experience of a journey. That was my goal. It’s like David Bowies album «Diamond And Dogs». You must listen to the entire album to get the whole picture. I tried to make a classic album like in the old days. Like reading a book. You must get to the end before you know what is happening.

Robert Pally: My favorites are «Bad Dreams» and «Just To Let It Go».

Steve Diggle: I love them as well. «Bad Dreams» has a classic vibe and is very hypnotic. It is kind of universal. Everybody has had a bad dream. We already played it live and it was well received. The same with «Just To Let It Go». We have been playing that live too. And the people loved it. We had instant reaction on both songs.

Robert Pally: «Experimental Farm» sounds pretty punkadelic. What inspired that song?

Steve Diggle. During the pandemic I was in Greece at one point. The only English books in a shop were H.G. Wells «The Invisible Man» and «The Food Of The Gods And How It Came To Earth». I thought this is a kind of like the pandemic. An invisible man with a mask. In the «Food Of The Gods» a scientist went down to a farm and said «Feed the chicken this and they will grow bigger.» The whole thing got out of control and rats were growing bigger and butterflies were growing bigger. We are sometimes at a point where you don’t know what you are eating. In these modern days it’s important to have natural products. Otherwise It can lead to diabetes or other diseases. «Experimental Farm» is about that. We don’t know how we are messing with our food. It’s a political song.

Robert Pally: I read on Wikipedia that post-Shelley will mark a new era. How do you mean that?

Steve Diggle: The new album marks a new era, a new spirit. You only can go forward. It will never be the same. But nothing is the same in life anyway. Each day is a new day. This album is also a transition album. Remembering and taking some elements the Buzzcocks are known for, and trying to move on. «Sonics In The Soul» is like a bridge album. I will hopefully do even more different things on the next one. When people think we know the Buzzcocks we will try to come up with something new. As a songwriter you always have to challenge yourself.

Robert Pally: The early Buzzcocks inspired other bands to release music and start labels. In what way, do you think, do you inspire people today?

Steve Diggle: We always had strong songs with great guitar riffs, that people could sing along. I think that is a continuation of our legacy. With this new album you could tell it’s the Buzzcocks, it’s the Buzzcocks 2022. The same with «The Way». This album is the Buzzcocks too, but differently. You can not do the same songs every time. You have to do the twists and the turns. Its like Picasso. He did cubism and then he did the blue period. I think that is important when you follow a band. You should go on a journey with them. Sometimes you don’t get it, sometimes you think «wow». Many great bands like The Beatles, Bowie or Bob Dylan never did the same album. That is the creativity.

Robert Pally: What were the high points / low points in your musical career?

Steve Diggle: High points are our great songs and our good live shows. Our audience gets involved in our shows. The people will go, «wow, that’s awesome». It’s a high point when you get good feedback from the audience. A high point is also when you make a great album like the new one. Hopefully it will inspire other bands. I don’t know any low points maybe some hangovers I had (laughs). We all have bad days and bad dreams sometimes. The low points are the things you call “life”. Life goes up and down. You should take the highs and the lows. You can learn a lot from low points.

Robert Pally: You tour a lot. What was the best concert you ever did?

Steve Diggle: Pretty much all of them. We played Madison Square Garden in New York. We played the Coachella Valley Music festival in the San Bernardino desert in 2012. These were amazing moments. Its always a new place, a new crowd and a new excitement. I try to get a good connection with the audience. When you get a connection through rock and roll you will see god, the devil and everything.

Robert Pally: Will you continue as a trio (Steve Diggle, Chris Remington, Danny Farrant) or get a replacement for Pete Shelley?

Steve Diggle: You cannot replace Peter Shelley. Live we have Mani Perazzoli who also does backing vocals. He has been with us for a few years now. He joined before the pandemic and fits in very well. Mani is part of the team now.

Robert Pally: In what way did the death of Pete Shelley affect you?

Steve Diggle: I was devastated. Pete and I had been together since the age of 20 (Steve is 67 now). Its been a long journey. I spent a lot of time in pubs with him. He was my friend, my mate. We were like brothers. It wasn’t just musically. It was also a personal thing. But you have to cope with it. I experienced a lot of deaths in my life. We joined Joy Division on the road. Their singer Ian Curtis killed himself. We went with Nirvana on their last tour. Kurt Cobain killed himself. I am a kind of used to that. My dad died years ago. When I was 17 I was in a car crash where a good friend of mine died. I survived the car crash. You have to accept that people die. One day I will die too. You can not turn the clock back. You just have to go forward. You should not put yourself in a state where you say «Somebody died I cannot function anymore». You are still in the land of the living.

Robert Pally: Did you ever think I am too old for Punk Rock now?

Steve Diggle. (laughs) Yes, when I was about 26. (laughs again) Punk Rock keeps you young. You never really grow up. I still love it. I still think it is important. And many other people do too. I like to make new records, hopefully great records. That people will receive well. That inspires me and excites me. We are not just doing the old hits when we get on tour. We will play some of the new songs too. Not many bands can do that and get applauded. There is still life in this thing called Buzzcocks. You don’t think about the age then. (laughs)

Robert Pally: Are there any old Buzzocks songs that you embarrassed by? If yes, which one and why?

Steve Diggle. I am still ok with most of them. There are probably one or two were I think I could have done this or that better.

Robert Pally: Can you give me an example?

Steve Diggle: There is a song called «Running Free» (from «A Different Kind Of Tension»). A DJ in America played that a lot and said it was one of his favorites. When I sang it in the studio I just put a rough vocal down. It was 6 o’clock in the morning and we had taken a lot of drugs. It was in a time when we were at the point of splitting up. So, I never went back to do proper vocals. Which I do regret. (laughs). Still the song has its charm.

Robert Pally: What are the next plans you have with The Buzzcocks?

Steve Diggle: They are sorting out a tour in the autumn. So, hopefully we can tour around the world. We had a big American tour canceled a month before they announced the lockdown. Also, I am half way through the next album.

Robert Pally

Studio Albums:

-Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978)

-Love Bites (1978)

-A Different Kind of Tension (1979)

-Trade Test Transmissions (1993)

-All Set (1996)

-Modern (1999)

-Buzzcocks (2003)

-Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)

-The Way (2014)

– Sonics In The Soul (2022)

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