This week we were blessed with the opportunity to talk in depth with the founder and songwriter behind the iconic, Saudi Arabia based punk-rock band that is Psycho Melodic Kill Switch.
If you’re familiar with their music, it’s likely you’ll be as keen as we were to explore the mind of the driving force behind it all. If you’re not familiar with their music – well, we’re here to change that.
We didn’t hold back with the questions, and Spike Summers kindly reciprocated with a beautiful array of honesty and openness. Here’s how it went.
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It’s a pleasure to be able to chat to you having heard so many of your releases over the past few months. Thanks for your time!
Thanks, it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you and your readers. I’ve had a productive morning: I went for a swim in the Red Sea; took orders for one of our new T-shirts and a dress from Norway; rehearsed the new set for our summer shows and now I’m settling down in Churchill’s Bar in Dahab, South Sinai with a bottle of Stella (the Egyptian one) to answer your questions.
Sounds perfect 🙂
Your latest track – They Don’t Care (Future Sold) – a creative and passionate reaction to the recent news of a snap election in the UK. What prompted you to react to the election above other issues, and how long did it take to write the song?
I was in the middle of releasing the Hundred Days of Destruction E.P. when the snap election was announced and I thought “bloody hell not another one”! I didn’t think I’d have time to get anything out for it. Anyway, a couple of days later I was chatting with a few friends on Facebook about the dreadful state of British politics. That night I literally dreamt up a plan to donate cash to the Labour Party and release a campaign song with the proceeds going to a nurses charity.
A few weeks earlier I had been chatting with a musician friend of mine, while I was back in London for a few days, and saying how I wanted to write a song that made voting sexy to young people. His response was “good luck with that”. Hence the line in the song I know it ain’t so sexy but you really gotta vote. So I woke up the next morning, sent some cash to the Labour Party and sat down to write the song. It took six days from conceiving the idea to sending the finished track to the distributors. The perfectionist in me would have liked to spend more time on it, but it was more about getting out.
Do you write about these issues to bring attention to the subject, with the intention of starting the conversation, hopefully having a positive influence, or do you simply find yourself creatively reacting to events?
Last Fall, I went through a painful break up with a girlfriend and after all the politics on last years album, Post Negative Melody, I imagined that the next album would take a different direction. However, then Trump got elected and that all got shelved. I released This Ain’t Kansas Anymore on the day he became president and then the 100 Days project got started. After that the British election and conservatives incurred my wrath.
In answer to your question a bit of both. I write in reaction to powerful emotions within myself. One of them being anger at racism, sexism and greed. I fought against these in my youth and didn’t expect them still to be an issue in the 21st Century. I write them in the hope that they might speak to people. If just one person reconsiders their vote or their way of thinking because of what I do, that would be a great victory for me.
I realise, most people that would be into my music would already be leaning to the left, so with these political records, I donate a portion – or all of the profits – to charities or political parties that I think contribute to making the world a better place. I hope to do the same with my new Voice of the Resistance clothing line.
Have you always had a passionate interest in politics, and what are your hopes for the future – what changes would you like to see? Do you maintain hope for the future and do you think positive change is possible if enough people push towards it?
When I was a very young boy, I remember looking up to the sky on West Wittering beach and taking in the vastness of it all and asking myself why I was put on this Earth. The only answer I could come up with was to help make it a better place. I believe nationalism to be one of the biggest barriers to a peaceful planet working together for the common good. This is why I was so against Brexit. For me it was a huge step in the wrong direction.
Yes, I do have hope for the future and that hope rests with the young. My hope is that what we are seeing is the last dying croak from the old white men and their racist, sexist non-inclusive ways. When they are all dead, hopefully the young can get down to building a better world for everyone. Let’s just hope the sh*t that May and Trump do today doesn’t take us over a line from which there is no return.
Are there songs that you write and don’t release? Is there a line you wouldn’t want to cross? If so, why?
There are songs that haven’t been released. Usually because I don’t believe them to be strong enough and not because of some line I wouldn’t cross. Obviously I would never write something knowing it to be sexist or racist but, apart from that, I’m not afraid to voice my opinions on politics, religion or sex. All the things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table.
Sex can be a tricky subject when you’re singing about it as a male. On last year’s album, Post Negative Album, I released a song titled Melody Switch. The character was based on Lady Gaga and her character on American Horror Story “the Countess”. It was a sexy song about an empowered female and meant as a tribute to someone I admire. The reviewer’s of the song picked up on this, but there was some negative feedback online where people misinterpreted the lyrics and saw them as sexist.
Who is in the band and what role does everyone play?
PMKS are a bit like The Streets or St Vincent in that it’s mostly me. However since its inception, I have been playing with bass player and backing vocalist Bob Black. Sadly, though, he returned to the States last week so will no longer be part of the band. I do guitar and vocals live and, if I can’t pick up a scratch band, produce a backing track for drums, keys, bass and backing vocals.
What’s life like in Saudi Arabia – does your music touch on political topics from there as well?
It’s not a lot of fun. No music, no alcohol and no women to talk to. Yes I did touch on the politics of the region on last year’s album. Tracks such as Subjugate The Girls, Cover Their Faces and Remember Paris could have all resulted in me being locked up or worse.
Who writes the songs, and do you always agree on topics, lines, ideas?
It’s all me when it comes to songs. Bob and I mostly agreed on the songs, both of us having a left of centre viewpoint. However he wasn’t too keen on Post Negative Melody’s “Mary” being a practicing Catholic.
What comes first, lyrics, melody, music?
It changes with each song. I’m very much a vocalist and lyricist who has become a student of guitar and production. Usually I will start with a concept. Then I will sit down with the guitar and work out a chorus, verse and middle eight. Once you’ve done that the song is pretty much done. I always try to make each song a progression from the last, so I try to throw in a guitar trick or production technique that I’ve recently learnt. Most of my songs start on an acoustic guitar and are then transferred to electric and so the songs can change quite a bit when it comes to recording with a full band sound.
Who would you say that your sound is influenced by – Who did you listen to growing up, and who do you listen to currently when you reach to press play?
Oh god – too many to mention. Kimono My House by Sparks got me writing lyrics. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust was my second album and he’s been “hardwired into my DNA” ever since. Watching Mick Jagger and the Stones in Paris made me want to be a singer. Johnny Rotten made me think I could. The Clash made me realise how to fuse politics with humour so it didn’t come out preachy. Then there’s The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Nirvana, The White Stripes.
Who do I reach for now? Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. In a lot of ways, pop music is the new punk. I loved the way Gaga took to the streets when Trump was elected. I was also impressed with Katy’s Trump and May puppets at the Brits this year and that she agreed to do the Manchester gig last weekend.
How important is live music to you as a band – do you get the chance to perform together much? Do you perform solo shows in the meantime?
Like most musicians I live for and fear live performances. It’s oxygen for our egos and where all our insecurities are laid bare for all to see. In Saudi, the opportunities for live performance are extremely limited to non existent as live performances are banned. However we did broadcast a performance of Subjugate The Girls from our rehearsal studio in Saudi. Not sure how many saw it, but hell we did it.
I’m planning to do a few live shows here in Egypt to test out the songs with a view to doing future dates in Europe and the States. Solo performances? Rather like that scallywag Pete Docherty, I sometimes get drunk in a pub and inadvisably pick up an acoustic guitar and bash out a few tunes. Thankfully most people by then are equally wasted and have fond memories of it, by which I mean no memory of what actually went down!
Many of your songs are unapologetically outspoken and express pretty clear views. The entirety of your latest EP The First 100 Days Of Destruction, for example, holds nothing back and is explicitly anti-Trump. Have you had any negative reactions to your songs or to the message behind them? If so, how do you deal with that?
Oh yes! I’ve been trolled by a number of Trump supporters. Some of it pretty disgusting, for example, “GRAB THEM BY THE PUSSY AND FINGER BANG THEM TO DEATH!…” (not my use of capitals). In the beginning, and with the previous example, I would name and shame them and see if they were man enough to stand by their words in front of their wives, children and relatives. However, as they got more numerous, I decided just to take the attitude that, if I’m pissing off these arseholes, I must be doing something right.
Have there been many notably positive reactions to your music – any hopeful changes in people you’ve encountered, or any lasting relationships formed through it?
Yes, sadly the haters seem to write more, but in general there’s been more likes, shares and positive comments from all over the World – Australia, The States, Britain, Japan, Norway and Egypt to name a few.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you and your music or your plans for the future? And is there anything you’d like to leave our readers to ponder? Any final thoughts?
Well I just like to thank anybody that’s managed to get this far in the interview. Next for me is the Egypt gigs followed by the Voice of the Resistance clothing line in the Autumn. After that, there’s next years album to consider which I have no idea about at the moment. But that’s the beauty of music – there’s always the next adventure. My parting thought? As long as the young stay free of past ignorance and hate, and strive for inclusion and love, the future is bright.
Beautiful. Thanks again for your time – keep doing what you do 🙂
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