Superman Revenge Squad interview
When we uncovered the amazing Nosferatu D2 album just before Christmas one of our New Year’s Resolutions was to find out more about the people that created it. The ND2 album had been released after the band split up but singer and guitarist Ben Parker was now working under the name Superman Revenge Squad. We caught up with him in his fortress of solitude for this interview.
I'm just trying to tie down your musical history: your first band was Tempertwig then Nosferatu D2 and now Superman Revenge Squad. Have I missed anything out?
Not really. Before Tempertwig I was in a band at university called Houdini. I joined the band as the second guitarist and ended up playing bass and singing because we couldn’t find a singer or a bassist.
I didn't really want to be the singer, but we couldn’t find anyone else that was any good. So there is a cassette somewhere of the set of songs I wrote for that band. The drummer from that band, Simon, is the guy that recorded the first two Superman Revenge Squad CDs. He got in touch years after the band broke up and I’d started writing acoustic songs and he’s into recording. He lives near Birmingham now, but if he lived nearer I think I would have got him on drums for SRS.
When did you first start making music?
When I was about 13 I discovered heavy metal music and got a guitar. And as soon as I got it, before I could play it, I started making stuff up on it. Amongst my old stuff are loads of books of lyrics from those days. They’re generally awful lyrics, but there are quite a lot of them. I have acquired quite a few similar notebooks since then, full of my half-written songs. It’s difficult to throw them away, simply because of the effort that’s gone into them. Sometimes I’ll pick up an old one and it’s a bit like reading an old diary - I imagine.
I've been working my way through your back catalogue and it seems from a quality perspective everything you touch turns to gold. Are you a perfectionist? Are you critical of your own work?
I don’t know that I’m a perfectionist. But I only finish songs that I’m happy with. I steer away from anything I don’t like in the first place. Since I started doing the SRS stuff, I’ve actually tried to keep every song I finish – so everything is recorded and therefore documented in some form. That’s kind of why I re-recorded some of the old songs with Martin on cello for the last SRS CD, just so that the stuff I was doing at that time was recorded somewhere.
With Tempertwig there was probably an album and a half worth of stuff that was written, played live and then discarded. And I’d quite like to be able to listen to some of that early stuff now.
You mentioned you didn’t want to be a singer and you have a very unique spoken vocal style. Is this what naturally comes out when you sing or is this something you have cultivated?
I don’t think I can really sing very well. So I do the best I can with what I’ve got. I like my lyrics, and as long as they can be heard then I’m fairly happy.
I understand you are a fan of the Palace Brothers - I can hear a lot of their influence in your work. Who else is a big influence on what you are doing?
Yeah, Will Oldham is definitely one of my favourites. I have more records and CDs by him than by anyone else I think. And Arise, Therefore is one of my favourite records.
As for others – people used to say I was like an English Jeffery Lewis and I can see what they're saying. I love Jeff’s stuff, but I see myself as being pretty different to him really. Things I like that might have influenced me: I went through a big period of my life listening to The Smiths quite a bit, so I’d say Morrissey is probably there too.
Like the Palace Brothers you seem to be a very well-kept secret. Are you finding once people discover your work they really get behind you?
People seem to either really like it or don’t like it at all perhaps. I get e-mails sometimes from people that seem to be really into what I’m doing. That’s really nice. And makes it all seem worthwhile.
I can hear elements of the criminally underrated Rock Of Travolta in your music. Are you a fan?
I saw them a few times years ago. The main guy in the Rock of Travolta used to arrange gigs in Oxford, and he put Tempertwig on a few times actually. I thought they were good fun live.
The Audio Antihero label was created to release the Nosferatu D2 album. How do you feel that someone feels so strongly about your work that they'll set-up a label just so more people can hear it?
I kind of suspect that Jamie (who created the label) was a bit crazy to do it! But of course it's nice that someone cares that much. What is odd is that I’m now reading reviews of the ND2 album years after we created it. So I feel quite detached from those songs now really, as they’re things I wrote some time ago.
It’s an amazing album and I can understand why Jamie felt it had to be heard. You seem to be quite prolific in your output. Do you find the process of writing and recording fairly painless?
I constantly seem to be in the act of coming up with lyrics. I enjoy writing the songs. I seem to need to be creative, and the songs are a way of doing that.
I hate recording though, as I’m constantly worried that the songs don’t sound good enough. I’m normally happy with the songs and the lyrics and happy about how they sound at gigs. But when you record them, it¹s generally pretty stressful and I worry that I could have done better.
I also hate to record in front of people I don’t know really well - that’s part of why ND2 never involved anyone else in the recording process at all. Everything was Adam and I and it’s why I’ve only been happy recording with myself (for the first SRS demos) or Simon (for the first 2 CDs) or Martin and Gavin (for the last CD; Martin plays cello, and Gavin has played with SRS in the past he played accordion for one gig a while ago) these are all people I can trust not to do anything I don’t like to the recording and that I feel comfortable with.
Your lyrics have an extremely deadpan sense of humour. At times the songs can feel quite harrowing and often come across as a man who has had more than enough - but somewhere in there you are laughing through the despair. Where do the lyrics come from? What inspires you to write?
I don’t know. Sometimes the initial words just seem to arrive from nowhere and then building on them is just obvious. Often they start off with an idea that I find amusing and I slowly build on it. The songs seem to be written slowly, bit by bit, over a long stretch of time.
Which of your songs is your own personal favourite and why?
‘The Angriest Dog in the World’, maybe. I like the way the dog seems to represent something else. Some people think it’s about a dog, but it isn’t anymore. Yeah, I really like the lyrics to that song.
Nosferatu D2 was made up of you and your brother. But now it's you with occasional others as Superman Revenge Squad. Why did ND2 come to an end?
Adam and I always said we’d stop doing ND2 when it stopped being fun. And it stopped being fun so we stopped doing it. We were always into really different types of music and that was what made it different I think. But towards the end of ND2 I was pulling in a different direction a bit and Adam wasn’t happy to go there. I think ‘Idiot Food’ and ‘The Angriest Dog in the World’ were both being written and I was trying to get Ad to drum on them but he wasn’t having it! So they became SRS songs instead.
Also, I was getting tired of being as angry as I had to be to play the ND2 stuff I’d kind of created a really angry persona for myself for gigs and I’d had enough of it. With SRS I can be myself on stage, which is initially a bit more frightening - but generally a lot more honest and more satisfying.
Superman Revenge Squad is an interesting band name, how did that come about?
It’s the name of an actual group of Superman villains that I saw in a book of comic book villains and liked. I liked the fact that it was a squad but there was only one person in the band. I was going to call it that or `My Best Unbeaten Brother’ when I decided the project needed a name and SRS won. I always imagine that DC comics would try to stop me using the name if I got a higher profile. Like when the band Captain America had to become Eugenius. But I've got a load of other names that I’ve got ready to use if that ever happened.
Staying on the superhero if you could have a superpower what would that be?
I hate flying, so if I could just teleport about then that would be quite useful. Mind you, I really like sitting on trains, so I’d still do that despite my powers.
I love the drawings on your Myspace page, are they yours?
They are doodles from the corners of notebooks I write lyrics in. I tend to doodle when I’m writing the songs. They also appear when I’m on the train back from gigs sometimes, sitting on my own and doodling and writing rubbish. The CD covers for the first three SRS CDs have all been taken from these notebooks.
Could you pick one of your YouTube videos for our readers
There's quite a professional looking bit of footage that forms part of this link, I'm the second act at 4:10
What are your plans for 2010?
I’m planning on recording an EP, with four or five songs on it, currently called The Dead Crow Blues. They are songs that are pretty much all about death in one way or another, initially inspired by a dead crow I found at the end of my road one day. Also growing old, getting nostalgic about being a teenager, watching an old man flicking through porn in a newsagent and dying - these are all happy topics that should be on the new recordings.
At the moment I’ve got more songs than we probably need ready so I’m choosing which ones to go on. I’m hoping to record with Martin on cello on all of the songs again and with my brother on drums for at least one of the songs. Maybe some other people on other instruments, but we’ll see. I’ve already got some dead crow artwork ready that Dave (who did the Nosferatu D2 monkey cover art) has done. It should be good. Then I really want to record a live album somehow just so that I can capture me waffling between the songs and playing them in front of people. Maybe play some old songs with Martin - as they now sound quite different to the recordings in places. I’d like to do that.
If you want to hear more from Ben You can buy the Superman Revenge Squad albums here http://www.supermanrevengesquad.com/ and the Nosferatu D2 album here - http://www.audioantihero.com/.