Based in Manchester and with pre-orders available for a new album on local label TNS Records, Incisions have been working their way around the DIY punk circuit for the last few years. They draw on classic 80s hardcore with an aggressive, acerbic, edge but add their own twist. Louder Than War’s Nathan Brown hooked up with them for a video call to find out what makes them tick.
Before I met up with Incisions on a cold Saturday evening in January via the power of the internet, they had already been on their own video call. “We’ve been drinking for the last, how long were we talking for then?” offers up Tets, the band’s drummer. Whether it was an hour or an hour and a half was never resolved but the first few minutes of the interview were taken up by a detailed discussion of how many cans they’d drank.
First impressions last, and considering we had never met, Incisions were very friendly, properly down to earth and lacked any pretence or bullshit. Pretty much what you want from a DIY punk band. After an hour together I felt like I’d enjoy sitting down to have a beer with them.
Along with Tets (short for Tetley, a nickname representing his status as a Yorkshireman), Archie the bass player has been in the band for 3 years. Martin – known as Battle – joined on guitar 2 years ago and Jordan, the only original member, takes care of vocal duties. Jordan gives us a potted history of the early years. “I grew up listening to punk bands like the Clash and stuff like that. I moved up to Manchester ’cause I wanted to start a band and there’s a bit more going on here than where I’m from in Chester down the road. We were a three-piece at first, a lot slower. It was a bit more melodic I think. It’s melodic now, but wasn’t quite as aggressive. And yeah, just over the years we got more gigs.“
He admits that other members who became disillusioned in those hard early years were jettisoned along the way. “I’ve always been kind of pretty unforgiving with it because I’ve always been pretty driven.”
“These three and me all met through Incisions playing with their various other bands and we all clicked. It seems easy to say it, but I think the new record speaks for itself. This is not only the best that the band’s been, but like this is what I wanted it to be. This is where I hoped it would end up.”
It’s clear that there was a vision and it’s been achieved with the current line up, who joke about how they were poached from their other bands. “When I first saw incisions”, says Tets, “I was blown away, and for some reason Jordan thought the same with me in Johnny West Is Missing and then it just all came together.”
What becomes quickly obvious to me is that the current line up of Incisions operates as a unit. Battle confirms, “It’s a proper band now. It was in the past but Jordan was doing like everything, writing everything, doing all the fucking band work and stuff. And now it is…We are like a fucking gang, right?”
As if to cement that gang image Archie goes on to add, “We play gigs together. We go to gigs together We were all quite involved with each other, so it just felt really organic when we came together and started to make music together. It just all seemed to fall into place at the right time at the right place. It’s quite lucky that we were all familiar and friendly with each other before we actually joined the band together. There was never that point where it is a group of strangers getting to know each other through a band. I knew Tets before throughout through Johnny West Is Missing and I knew Martin through Riggots [a 2-piece noise band on the Anti-pop label]”
Battle agrees “When we all joined, there was no awkwardness. We’d all met before anyway.”
Tets still plays in another band called Animal By Products but is clearly smitten with Incisions. “I joined [former band] Johnny West is missing through work. So I met one of my mates through work that was looking for a drummer at that time. One of the first things that we played was with Incisions. First time I saw him I was like blown away. I was like that’s a band I want to be in and then drummers have been and gone in Incisions and the option came up. Jordan came to us and asked if I wanted to join and obviously I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”
The Melting Pot effect
As we discuss musical influences it becomes clear that each member of the band brings something different to the party. The “melting pot” as Archie calls it, creates a sound greater than the sum of its parts. Battle places them wide across the musical spectrum: “None of us like the same bands or anything like that”, before adding “We all give each other shit for what bands we like.” but Tets sees them as having more common ground “There’s crossovers where maybe two or three of us like a band”. Archie immediately fires back: “There are definitely bands that all four of us like.” The way the band disagree then work their way round to agreement after sifting the facts betrays a maturity that must make the difficult business of being in a band together easier.
Jordan pitches in at this point to underline the contribution each member brings and how it has developed the Incisions sound “This is the first Incisions release where I’m not playing guitar as well as singing. I used to do both. We had a second guitarist at that point as well, but I always kind of felt like I could only give like 50-60% of both at the same time, and you know, I was limited with how fast we could play while I was trying to follow some sort of melody in my vocals as well. Now that I’ve dropped playing guitar, obviously that’s freed me up to be a lot more aggressive with my vocals. It’s also meant that we can speed the music up. You know, I’m really into hardcore like Poison Idea and all that sort of stuff, maybe on the more crusty side of things. Battle’s more noise rock”
Battle sees it another way “In terms of the hardcore music I like, you’re DC and I’m pure New York. But yeah, I like that hard man groovin’ and all that silly carry on.” He stops to make a grunting neanderthal sound. “Whereas you like things that are fast and sound like they were recorded in a fucking biscuit tin.”
Archie jumps in again “I must say I like the fast biscuit tin stuff“. Tets, almost feeling left, out confesses to being “quite mainstream”. He explains, “I took a lot of influence from my brother who used to torrent a lot. Punk music and heavy music… that I would then steal. So I’m influenced a lot by more mainstream, heavy punk rock.” Battle sums it up: “Me and Tet are the pure metalheads of the band!”
At this point they apologised for going off the point and being half pissed. In that loveable way that drunk people repeat themselves, they would apologise again throughout the interview.
80s hardcore influences
Whilst I had seen Incisions before, and heard them on compilation albums and radio shows, I made sure I listened to the new album prior to this interview. Yeah, I had a sneak preview! And now it is up for pre-order, hitting the streets on 2 April. On the first couple of listens, the thing that struck me was a really strong Black Flag influence with shades of guitar-heavy bands like Poison Idea. I found myself thinking in places it was as if the Damaged album had been recorded with a Mancunian on the mic, with some Noo Yawk Hardcore tough guys in the studio to shout-along crew vocals and Pig Champion (RIP) shredding his axe. And of course, once I had thought this I couldn’t avoid drawing the conclusion that their cover art with bold colours and cartoon art had a touch of a Black Flag feel to it. Aware that such a comparison could mortally offend them or be exactly what they wanted to hear and make me appear some kind of kiss arse, I just told them straight out. And they seemed happy enough with the idea.
Jordan leaps straight in “Black Flag and you know Minor Threat and those sorts of bands will always have a massive influence on us. Changing the sound as drastically as we have from this album to our last, it is still a hardcore record.”
This is something that Archie noticed before joining the band. “I don’t think we’ve ever shied away from admitting that sort of stuff is a massive influence. I can remember first seeing Incisions before I was a member of the band and just thinking, yeah, this reminds me of the best of what I’ve heard from old school hardcore bands like Black Flag, like Circle Jerks. All that kind of old school Southern California stuff which a lot of bands weren’t really doing in Manchester. That kind of you know, gritty down to the bone hardcore. Straight back to basics but also with melody and with hooks. And you know songs that actually get stuck in your head.”
Discussing the Manchester scene of a few years back, “skatepunky” is the term Battle uses. “You could tell with Incisions, it really was back to that old school generation of like DC hardcore where it was hardcore music but they are fucking good musicians.”
For Incisions, the brevity of hardcore is a major selling point. “My mentality has always been if you know if if you can’t say into 2 1/2 minutes max, is it worth saying especially with punk music anyway? That’s what I like about it.” says Archie, getting nods of approval from the rest of the band.
We moved on to discuss the process of writing songs. Some bands have a sole songwriter who turns up with formed songs and they knock them into shape. Some take a more dynamic approach, starting with a riff and building the song when everyone is in the room. They talk of how they wrote the album with a misty-eyed fondness and clearly miss being together in the practice room, and out on the road.
“I’m proud we’ve all got our identity into every single song on this album somehow,” says Battle, conceding that Archie often intervenes to keep the songs short. “I profess, as a joke mostly, that I hate punk rock. It’s stupid and it’s lazy, right? Somehow, [this album] ended up being hardcore. Every single song has something that all four of us have, like stamped our own sort of stamp on there.”
Agreeing, but providing more of a tangible illustration, Jordan describes the songwriting process. “We go to practice and someone would start playing a riff and then you know it. It happened like that and I think actually with every single song on this album the energy and the ideas and the excitement about the song is in the moment when you first come up with it. That’s how aggressive and, you know, urgent a lot of this stuff sounds on this record it’s because it was all like in the moment“
Drummers often get sidelined in conversations about songwriting despite the fact that you can smuggle past a shit riff as long as it has a great drum beat but the best riff in the world won’t get a second play with a poor rhythm behind it. So, it’s nice that Tets adds his view. “I was gonna say just from this perspective when it comes to songwriting, they have the confidence in me to put my own spin on it and 9 times out of 10 it’s great.“
In terms of the lyrics, I was keen to explore motivation, if there was any worldview the band was trying to convey. Whether words were written to fit songs or the other way round. What I heard was a description of how even the words are spewed out right there in the practice space.
Battle explains: “Usually the three of us are jamming out, jamming out, repeating, repeating, and repeating, and Jordan sits down with a book. He says carry on, carry on playing. We’re having fun playing. We will carry on playing. He’ll sit there and go ‘right’ and then just pull up a mic stand and then shout the words.” Archie adds “I’ve never seen anyone write lyrics as quickly as Jordan. Even on the spot. But it works I think”
“I’ll get syllables, basically, that’ll fit with what I’m hearing in my head, and then I’ll write some words that fit that. “, confirms Jordan “And then a lot of the time, you know, sixty per cent of it doesn’t make sense, but you have one or two lines that you think I really fucking like that. Then I’ll kind of build it. You know, whatever the mood or tone. I’ll build the song backwards from that. In some cases, I’ve had ideas and then you know started trying to build something around that, but I’ve always struggled with that. I’ve never been able to write a song about this and that. You know everything is very honest and personal. I realise after I’ve done it or after it’s been recorded and I’ve listened back to it. I’m like ‘shit, I know what that is about’ or whatever and you know, I’ve kind of overshared or whatever.”
“I think it’s healthy to just kind of be raw like the music is and you know it. It suits that it’s always aggressive and personal, and we mean it. And you know that that’s what carries through to the record.”
I put it to the band that the lyrics are from the gut, suggesting the word visceral. Archie agrees “Yeah, and I would say if you listen to this album and listen to the previous album there’s a lot more sort of personal lyrics on this record.”
The positive impact of being in a band
Talking about the beneficial effect of playing music on general well being and mental health, Tets and Archie cite it as “one hundred per cent”. Battle adds that the process of putting together a video in recent weeks made him realise how much he misses it. Despite being unable to physically meet, the lads have made efforts to maintain contact.
“We have Thursday night video calls, don’t we?“ Battle offers up, “But we don’t record from home or anything like that”
It seems strange that the positive impact of being in a band is expressed in terms of what can’t be had due to the various lockdowns. So we start to discuss the negative impact of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Jordan starts off “We probably would have put this album out a lot sooner. There were gigs that we had lined up like playing with TSOL. That didn’t happen, randomly going full belly up. We might be playing with Cro Mags in a couple of months. We don’t know if that’s correct.” Archie adds “We probably would have done it all last year, realistically. Maybe even gone over to Europe.”
Meanwhile Tets and Battle ping pong backwards and forwards before settling on the number of gigs that Incisions played in 2019 – in the region of eighty. The list of support slots reads like a who’s who of hardcore: Poison Idea, DI, Adolescents, Dr Know.
Battle – “We played with all Jordans favourite bands 2019 but we like it. Insane, but you know we were wanting to build on that.” Jordan is beaming and agrees “What’s amazing is at the start of Incisions if you said we would ever do something like that I’d have told you to fuck off and not believed you.”
Like many bands, they feel frustrated that 2020 has banjaxed their momentum, coming after a year in which they played Rebellion and a packed out gig at Guerrilla at Manchester Punk Festival. Jordan manages to remain upbeat, appreciating that no-one has been immune from this situation but is confident that the new album “will put that right.”
Only Jordan lives in Manchester with the rest of Incisions scattered across the North – in Oldham, Leeds and Wigan – but their base is Manchester city centre. Battle talks about how past experience taught him that having to travel can be a real test of commitment. Inevitably someone lets the rest down, but not with Incisions: “We make it work by Hook or Crook, don’t we? And consider how much we enjoy ourselves recreationally.”
The fact they enjoy each hanging out together may be the secret according to Archie. “I think it helps that we enjoy each other’s company as much as we take the piss out of each other. Maybe its because we do that and we’ve got a bit of a self-deprecating humour.”
“That’s what mates do though innit? That’s what makes you take the piss out of each other.” pipes up Tets.
The conversation neatly turns back full circle to subject of how being in a band is a positive experience. “You know, we all love each other and genuinely have a lot of fun when we’re together.” says Archie, qualifying it with the caveat “usually inebriated in some way or another.”
Battle puts the positive experience down to the people in Incisions rather than it being something that applies to bands in general: “In terms of mental health, it’s helped us all individually. I’ll be honest before joining Incisions…I’ve been doing bands since 1999 and before Jordan messaged me asking if I want to join, I was done. I was done with being in bands. I was happy with being done. And the one thing that’s remained throughout all that time is that when the four of us get together, we have a fucking right laugh.”
Working with TNS Records
With the clock running against us, we talked about the band’s relationship with TNS Records, who have just celebrated their 100th release with a sampler style compilation. As is often the case with DIY punk labels, it’s not just about how a band sounds – friendship is key. Archie is emphatic about what the label represents to the North West punk scene in particular “We’re really good friends with Andy and everyone involved in that label. I grew up listening to TNS bands, growing up around Manchester, going to TNS gigs. TNS is something that I’ve looked up to since I was 16 or 17 years old, like a little kid going to punk gigs for the first time. So I’m really fucking proud to to be involved in any way with that label.”
Aside from being a local inspiration, it appears that the way TNS treats bands on its label is part of their success. “You know they’ve been amazing to us. I’ve got absolutely nothing bad to say about them”, says Jordan before Archie gets down to the importance of the label’s business model – or perhaps anti-business model. “A label like TNS don’t actually make money. Well, there’s money, but it all goes back into the label. They do it through love, not as a career. You know that they’re not profiteering from us, that they’re literally just doing it through love of the music scene, wanting to support local punk bands, that kind of stuff. That to me is is evidence that they’re gonna do a good job”. Tets sums it all up: “That’s why we work so well with them, ’cause we do it for love as well”.
Incisions are clearly happy with the relationship they have with TNS but could they be tempted by the shiny shoes and promises of a major label? This has pretty much been a sacred cow in the hardcore punk scene from way back when people called out The Clash for being on CBS. It is such a given that they haven’t even considered. “To me, being on TNS actually felt like being on a major label”, offers up Archie before weighing up the pros and cons. “I think it depends what they could offer and how much autonomy we’d get in our own decisions. I wouldn’t want to compromise anything. And I’m sure they would. If someone is literally just trying to earn some money, make a quick buck, make you a hit or whatever, you know it’s it’s not gonna be a long-lasting thing.”
Battle has direct experience of being signed and is emphatic. There is no debate to be had. “Been there, done it. No. Did that when I were younger and not a fucking chance.” This informed viewpoint carries weight. “Battle’s dealt with it in the past so, obviously we’d take his perspective on it,” says Tets.
Aside from the scene politics, the band have a very pragmatic perspective on why the music “business” is increasingly irrelevant. “They’re not needed anymore. “ says Tets. “You don’t need to join a major label to get your word out there and get your music out there. There’s really no point. And if signing means sacrificing some of how you feel, what you write, or if you feel like they own you then it’s not worth giving up independence for what little extra they can offer”.
Jordan agrees “We can do for ourselves what a major label would do for us. Would they give us money to go and make videos? We just made probably my favourite band video I’ve ever seen. We had to make it in isolation, filmed it on my phone that cost £1.50. That’s a brilliant video!” Offering a word of advice to other bands he continues: “Anything that those people can do for you…you know, aside from the fact that they will suck all the fucking fun out of it, you know you do it yourself genuinely.”
With their band unity, clear focus, sense of purpose yet enough humour and humility not to take themselves TOO seriously I’d predict there is much more to come from Incisions. One to watch as the saying goes.
The new album is available on pre-order from TNS Records.
Incisions are on Facebook
All words by Nathan Brown. You can read more from Nathan on his Louder Than War archive over here.