I met with Neil Hanson, Bart Pettman, Drew Lunn and Declan Hogan from Leeds historical rock scamps Kleine Schweine. I say scamps, for that’s what you’d be forgiven for thinking if you’re familiar with Neil Hanson or any of his previous work, and its general cheeky party time demeanour.
It soon becomes apparent though that something much more significant than having a good time has ignited Kleine Schweine’s interest. Their album, the intentionally ambiguously-entitled ‘The Party’, (reviewed by Counterfeit here) contains a gamut of blistering history lessons describing the fates and fortunes of many an Eastern Bloc villain (and the occasional hero), and the more we talk, it becomes obvious just how much they have embraced the web of stories that together tell the story of Europe’s recent past.
How these boisterous, pun-laden songs about historical politics have eventually turned into an album is a tale in itself. “I did European Studies at university, and the bits that stood out for me were the communist stories” Neil tells me. “I never understood the significance at the time but it’s all become really relevant, especially with what’s going on with Pussy Riot, and the growing extremism in Greece and the rest of Europe. We only started the band because we were bored and missed playing together, and I sort of wrote a song about Edi Rama, one about the Stasi, and one about Ceaucescu…”. Bart adds “… so we’d kind of got three in a similar vein, and thought shit! We’ve got a concept album here”. The rest, it seems is history.
The band wrote a full album’s worth of songs, and despite Kleine Schweine being new to the scene, they didn’t want to wait before releasing it, as they’d all been involved with bands or the wider music scene previously (Bart is a music photographer; Neil and Drew promoters). But they had no money or label interest, so they approached Pledge, the crowd funding website. Initially, Pledge advised them that they were too new to the scene to make their target and that they shouldn’t go ahead. But given their background, and how many people they know collectively, Pledge eventually gave them the go-ahead, and so started a campaign of youtube videos, requests for the band to dress up as various dictators, and Sauerkraut-making instructions. The boys all agree it was a really fun way to make the money to record the album, especially making new videos to spike interest & pledges, but Neil says it brought out the obsessive side of him: “it took me back to my promoting days when I was checking numbers and ticket sales – and I don’t like that side of it. It was nice watching the money going up, and we’re getting something out at the end of it – we’re making a fucking album!”
Ironically, the album was recorded with Whiskas (ex-promoter and iForward Russia! guitarist,now music scene guru and label boss), and he was so impressed with what the band produced that he offered to put the album out in his label. So with this new support, will there be another concept album I ask? “We may start to look at something a bit closer to home” says Declan, “- certain members of the Bullingdon Club perhaps”, referring to the coalition government and their current prowess, or lack thereof, in running the country, and the band hint at putting a “f**k the Coalition” themed EP sometime before the next election. If it’s fodder they want there’s certainly no shortage, as Drew makes clear: ”there are enough c**ts in the world, that if we wanted to go on, we could have a career as long as the Rolling Stones’”.
As we talk, it’s clear Kleine Schweine have become totally immersed with bringing history alive and making it relevant to as many people as possible. Even Declan confesses to being more interested in documentaries since starting in the band and Bart too, who loves history but hated the way it was taught at school, is glad to have something to get his teeth into. Would it be something nice if their songs mean fans start to think more about the past and how we can learn from it for the present? “Absolutely” says Neil, without hesitation. “This stuff just wasn’t taught in school, all the stuff that was coming out of the Eastern Block was propaganda”
I ask them if they think there’s a danger that fans will think they are just joking about their subject matter, using the opportunity to make silly puns and play fast noisy music. They do describe themselves as “like iLiKETRAiNS on speed”on their own facebook page, which is probably as accurate a description of them that anyone can make. Drew answers: “that’s one reason why were were a bit more worried about being in a band like this, because it’s more serious and we’re not doing a big chorus and – erm actually we are aren’t we…”. Neil clarifies by telling us about a comment from a fan: “someone came up to me the other day after we’d played the song about Stalin, and said we’d made a really happy pop chorus – ‘we will send you to the death camps of Siberia’. That’s completely unintentional for it to be poppy, it’s just what we do coming together with the subject matter”. Whether this can be interpreted as a metaphor for the “happy holiday camp” propaganda that would have been used at the time to reassure people about the camps is perhaps a step too far, but the boys reckon their irrepressible enthusiasm and their passion for the subject is making it alive and accessible.
So why are Kleine Schweine so keen that people learn about their stories? “The whole message behind the album is ‘don’t get too complacent “ says Drew.”A lot of the stuff that’s happening out there are the moment with Pussy Riot [and so on], is on a level to some of the people we’re singing about – so it’s not too far from home”. Neil gives us some examples: “The Pussy Riot thing is actually just a repeat of what was happening in Russia 70 – 80 years ago; Ceaucescu was shot for ruining the economy…”
“It’s easy to just accept what’s going on around you” says Bart. “But all the songs are about the point at which people stop accepting what’s going on around you. Everything in the songs is in the past, but that’s beside the point. You can relate all of it to what’s going on now, or at least put it in perspective, try not to repeat the mistakes of recent generations”.
And I think for me, that sums up what makes this new band of little pigs tick. There may be a dose of humour and a chunk of subversion, but above all it’s about listening to what’s going on and realising what can happen if you don’t challenge the Party Line.
‘The Party’ is out now. Is will be officially out now: