To coincide with the release of their album Anti-Trump Mix Tape, and an appearance at London Alternative Fashion Week, we caught an in-depth interview with the one and only Spike Summers. We talk everything from Trump to Punk Rock to life in Saudi Arabia as a musician, and much more. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Spike – thanks for the interview, and welcome back to UK shores – how have things been since your return?
It’s been pretty hectic. I was planning on starting a World Tour in January 2019, but now I’ve been kicked out of Saudi I’m having to move everything forward 6 months. The idea behind the tour is to raise money for ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and Planned Parenthood in order to curb the excesses of Donald Trump and help towards making sure he is not elected for a second term.
How long have you been making music?
I started writing my first lyrics when I was 14 after listening to a Sparks album titled Kimono My House so If you date it from there it’s err over 40 years.
Where did the name Psycho Melodic Kill Switch come from, and why did you recently shorten it to PMKS?
I wish there was a better story to this but it’s quite mundane really. Sometime in 2014 I composed a piece of electronic music and needed a name to save it under and came up with Psycho Melodic Kill Switch. It was pretty crap, so I never did anything with it. Fast forward 18 months to the genesis of PMKS. Around the same time as we were naming the band I came across that file again, suggested the name, and the rest as they say is history.
We shortened the name because everybody in the press and media was calling us PMKS anyway and it adds an air of mystery. People can have a bit of fun finding out what it stands for.
How has your approach to creativity evolved over the years?
I started as just a front man and lyricist so in order to write songs I had to work with a guitarist. As time went on this became inconvenient so I learnt guitar myself. Then I got in the production side of things, studied drums, bass, piano and music theory so I could put together complete songs. More recently I’ve been experimenting with EDM and blending sounds and instruments to make original sounds.
For those who don’t know, how long were you living and working in Saudi Arabia, and why did you head over there to begin with?
About 6 and a half years all told. In 2008 my brother died intestate and then in 2011 my mother died having spent a number of years in a nursing home so there was a lean on the house and there was a legal nightmare to sort out. Then I got a phone call out of the blue offering me a lecturing gig at a Saudi university. I thought I might as well take it while the legal process was going on. I only planned on staying for 6 months or so. Just as I was thinking of leaving my daughter, Frances, started acting school and so I stayed on in Saudi, so I could help her out financially. She finished recently so I was planning to leave Saudi in January 2018 and embark on the Planned Parenthood and ACLU fundraising tour. That was before the videos went viral and all hell broke loose.
What was life like in Saudi as a musician?
Pretty scary really. People there quite literally believe that music is the work of the devil and treat you accordingly – as an agent of Satan. Live musical performances are illegal and the only way to perform is by live broadcast which I did and that ultimately led to my ejection from the country. The king has also decreed that criticism of the government is an act of terrorism which carries the death penalty. My songs Subjugate The Girls and Why Don’t Men Cover Their Faces definitely fall into that category. As you might imagine I had a few sleepless nights over the years, but you learn to live with the pressure. It’s so liberating being back in a country where I can sing what I want and play live.
Why did you come back to the UK?
On the April 5 I was called in by my boss and told I could no longer work in Saudi Arabia. (I had been working as a university lecturer.) What had happened was that one of my students (a very devout one) had found pictures and videos of me performing rock music. He then disseminated these on various social media outlets such as Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube. Music is strictly forbidden in Saudi and pretty soon they had gone viral in Saudi Arabia (Sadly only in Saudi Arabia). The aforementioned student also put together a dossier of over 100 photos and several videos and sent them to the president of the university. He in turn informed my company that I was no longer allowed on University grounds. The next day my company informed me that I could not work at the University and that I couldn’t be moved to another project in the Kingdom as my face was too well known. I was also advised to leave the country as quickly as possible for my own personal safety. However, I didn’t get my exit visa for another 7 weeks. It was a very stressful and worrying time.
How do you decide what to write about in your songs?
There’s no real trick to it. If something or someone emotionally engages me then I write about it. These emotions can span the gamut – love, heartbreak, hate, distrust, fear, anger, betrayal.
Being in Saudi the last six years there hasn’t been much opportunity to expand my repertoire of love songs, so my anger at how women are treated emerged in a lot of the songs. Women cannot work in Saudi and are not allowed to leave their homes or the travel abroad without a male relative accompanying them. It’s like the country as a whole has lobotomized half its brain power and tossed it away never to used. The human waste and cost drives me crazy. I also see Donald Trump as the biggest single threat to women’s rights, the environment and indeed democracy itself. It’s like he is single handedly putting the clock back 60 or 70 years. This has also been preoccupying my creative process lately. In fact, as I write this I am on a train to London to protest his arrival in this country. (July 12)
If people only have time to listen to one of your songs, which would you recommend, and why?
Difficult. They’re all so bloody brilliant! No seriously, I would have to go for INTIMIDATION DOLL. It’s been getting good reviews and has been popular with the crowd during the early British shows. It showcases the EDM and feminist side of the band. The rock and Anti Trump side of the band is best served by NEW ENGLAND BRIDE. That’s two I know but you’re never going to get an artist to narrow it down to one. I thought I did very well with just two.
How important is live performance to you, and what can audiences expect from a live show?
Like most performers, live is where it’s at for me. It’s the life blood and oxygen that sustains me. Nothing can compare to the power and energy of the dual interaction of audience and live performer. It never ceases to amaze me how the live performance of song with all its imperfections always outshines the pristine perfection of the recorded version.
What can people expect at a live show? I’m kind of old school on stage. I’ve always liked to watch a lead singer bust out some moves. I quite literally “Move Like Jagger” with a bit of Johnny Rotten thrown in just for good measure. And maybe even a soupcon of Bowie.
What do you think are three of the best songs to have ever been written, and why do you think it’s those that came to mind?
Oh god. I hate this question. It’ll be completely different tomorrow but here goes. I drove my car into a bridge – I don’t care is possibly one of the most perfect lyric in pop history so Icona Pop and Charli XCX’s I Love It. I was discussing the merits of Deelite’s Groove Is In The Heart with a friend the other day over a few beers and the general consensus was that it was a top tune. Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance must be up there to. All my rock mates will be sharpening the knives for the next time they see me after that lot and as I say it’ll be completely different tomorrow.
Why did they come to mind? I think it’s because I’ve been experimenting with EDM in recent months and listening to a lot of dance stuff. However, when I’m laying down some guitar solos in a few months’ time it could be Zeppelin and the Stones.
What do you hope people take away from your music?
One of my older songs includes the line “…and a punk rock track can save your soul and change that right win vote”. That’s what I hope people will take away from my gigs and music and together we might oust Donald Trump and Theresa May and stop this Brexit nonsense. It would also be a good thing if just one bloke questioned why he was always being such a dick to his girlfriend and made an effort to change his behavior.
What are your plans over the coming months and years?
This is a huge question for me as I have a very ambitious 2 year plan I’m working on.
It basically involves me embarking on a World tour which circumnavigates the planet twice. Australia and New Zealand in the Winter, Japan in the spring, Europe and North America in the Summer and South America in the Autumn. Then the whole thing starts again culminating in the summer and fall in the States where I will be following Donald Trump on his campaign trail playing shows in the cities where he is holding campaign rallies.
The idea behind the tour is to raise money for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and Planned Parenthood in order to curb the excesses of and help oust from power Donald Trump who as I see it is currently the single largest threat to feminism, sexual liberty, the environment, race relations and indeed democracy itself, not just in America, but the World in general. The set includes pro feminist and anti-racist/trump songs.
I’m setting it up so that the shows can be done as simply as just me with a backing track at a small pub, but with room to expand to include a backing band and special guests both appearing with me on stage or doing a set of their own material in support of the tours objectives.
There is an album recorded and ready for release which will drop shortly including the songs featured on the tour. I also hope to collaborate with various artists I meet along the way, releasing new material as I go.
I will also be introducing a fashion / merchandise line with the help of Aleah Leigh which will be debuted during London Alternative Fashion Week on September 20.
In addition, there is going to be a film element. A documentary of the tour will be shot. This will include live footage, interviews with characters who meet along the way and collaborations as the show grows and expands. Also, short films are to be shot onto a screen behind the band depicting the lyrics of the songs.
As well as this, I’m hoping to enlist artists to help with the posters, backdrops, album and single cover art. etc. Maybe even a Banksy style guerilla graffiti art promoting the objectives of the tour.
My initial ideas for the financing of the tour are we give 50% of the profits from the shows, albums, singles, fashion, films and art to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and 50% to financing the tour until we reach a critical mass when the tour logistics are paid for and at this point the amount of money going to the charities will increase.
At the moment I am looking for help both financial and logistical so if anyone reading this is interested in this project and feel they can help in any way please get in touch with me.
If you could collaborate with any artist, past or present, who would it be, and why?
Easy. Lady Gaga. I have been an admirer of her work for some time now. She’s smart, sassy, technically gifted with a fantastic voice, driven and not afraid to take on difficult issues, like campus rape for example.
What are your thoughts on the mainstream music world right now?
I really don’t have a problem with mainstream music whether it be electronic or analog. As long as the message is positive, inclusive and attempts to make the world a nicer place to live in.
What are your thoughts on the rise of independent music in recent years?
Defining independent is difficult. Some of the independent labels are just subsidiaries of major labels like Sony / Warner Brothers etc. If by independent you mean unsigned and self-produced, this is the category I fall into and there is no doubt there is lot of interesting stuff out there. I feel that nobody has really come to terms with digital revolution in music and the various new business models people are championing are often a way of profiting off the hopes and dreams of young artists.
What are your hopes for the future?
As an artist with a political message that wants to help make the world a better place, I want to get my message to the widest possible audience, so I guess my hope for the future is to cross over from independent artist to mainstream artist.
Where can people catch you playing live over the coming months?
I’ve been caught out by my early ejection from Saudi. At the moment I’m scrambling to put together an autumn tour of Europe which could possibly include a few North American dates. In the meantime, I’m playing as many unscheduled dates as I can. A sort of guerilla style Speight of shows wherever I happen to be in the UK, either doing short sets supporting other acts or even just bowling up to an open mic night.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Not really. I’d just like to thank people who have read this far for your indulgence and I hope you found it interesting.
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