Ben Wallers is most well known for his controversial and satirical songwriting as the front man of Country Teasers. However, he has performed solo under many monikers and written and performed in a variety of different obscure, deconstructionist groups.
As he prepares to begin his summer residency at Brixton’s Windmill, performing as his now longstanding stage persona: The Rebel, he caught up over email with Joyzine’s Patrick Malone. Ben answered the emails on a phone and was frustrated that he could not use his Bluetooth keyboard. The answers that came back have not been edited because Ben’s use of capitals and experimental punctuation are a perfect example of his anti-intellectual, comical and confrontational imagination at work.
Patrick: Has Covid19/Lockdown generally been conducive to your writing process, slowed it down or has it had little to no effect?
Ben: erm… the thing is, right, we had a child just before the Plague hit… and my boss gave me a year’s sabbatical because of some DOMESTIC ISSUES … so i was kind of already on Lockdown and my whole life was totally changed by my lovely daughter and the difficult circumstances of her first year … i managed to crank out a few hits and there’s an album coming out soon on Wrong Speed Records called REMEMBER YOUR FAILURE IN THE CAVE which i am proud to say ironically “Here’s my fucking Lockdown album you cunts YAAAWWN” but really as usual it’s not about lockdown or covid or global pandemic united human bla bla, it’s just about ME AND MY STUPID PROBLEMS!
Patrick: Something that strikes me when I listen to any of your records is “this guy can write great tunes”. In the past you have specified that music is a therapeutic hobby for you, but have you ever been curious to push the melodies to the forefront and sacrifice the disharmonious parts so that more people would appreciate you as a tunesmith more than as a satirist?
Ben: it’s a great point and one which my wives, girlfriends, parents and fr… acquaintances also make in exasperation BUT I’M TELLIN YA MAN it aint so easy as it looks, to write a hit; i have been trying since 1987. There’s 2 things at play fucking it up for us: 1.i can’t tolerate cliché or repetition, i am forced to attempt to make something new [now: i know there aint nothing new. But i can arrive at something which i don’t recognize and that’s like new]. The hits are all old. 2.i hate the mainstream. I often think about Lou Reed’s “Transformer” and how i wish i could write an lp like that and go platinum… but … well … we’ll see! Maybe my daughter’s hunger and nappies will force me to try harder?
Patrick: To your knowledge has anyone ever fallen in love with your song writing, believing you were sincere, as in sincerely misogynistic and racist and homophobic?
Ben: gosh this is an easy one: no! I’m pretty out of touch with the internet and things but so far no one has contacted me to say “Hey Ben man i’m so glad you also hate women and ******** like i do, phew what a relief”. People ask me have we ever run into rednecks in USA. But this is stupid because USA is not entirely populated by rednecks and the only people who ever go to Country Teasers gigs are left wing shy indie kids and bald men in glasses who like Brainbombs etc. Obviously i have always been trying to a)attract like-minded people and b)alienate bastards. Personally i hate the right wing, i hate bigots and closed minded people, i hate anti-feminists, i hate racists, i hate loads of types of people with a vengeance and that hatred makes me write angry ironic satire because like Swift and Burroughs i wish these cunts would fuck off the planet. These cunts obviously don’t like my music because they don’t inderstand it so we never meet! La la la land!
Patrick: David Foster Wallace wondered whether irony, after long enough, became the song of the bird who’s learnt to love its own cage. Do you think satire and its use of irony is so dependent on that which it is supposed to despise, that eventually the two are more like old friends teasing one and other, than enemies?
Ben: i dunno man, see my previous answer? I practically lost it! I love my cage, England, and i suppose i love to love you baby love to hate the for instance Pork Neck fucking st george cross flag NF types etc because i dunno does it make me feel better about myself? But really satire and its weapon/medium Irony are/is an important thing against immorality, capitalism, etc etc etc etc. Satire will only be unnecessary when there is no more Bad Human Behaviour. Satire is required to expose it. Ask a Russian!
Patrick: A meteor is hurtling towards earth at such a pace that there is only time to watch one Star Wars film before total annihilation and certain death. Which film?
Ben: Come on Man what are you fucking kidding me? Star Wars! Star Wars fucking One! A New Hope or whatever! But for god’s sake dont watch the post 1996 digital re-edit! That Darth in Luke’s clothing the evil emperor George Wukasc totally ruined it. See the scene where Han shoots Greedo? Watch the original then watch the re-edit: THEY CHANGED IT SO THAT GREEDO SHOOTS FIRST! Typical Americans. I told they’re all rednecks didn’t I.
Patrick: False alarm, there’s a bit more time before the meteor hits, but in all the chaos your DVD collection has been trampled and nearly completely destroyed. Now you have to choose between The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith?
Ben: Hilarious, thought you caught me out but in fact for Christmas I set myself the challenge (bcos my lodger got Disney Plus) of watching the 3 prequels. I enjoyed them… kind of … it dragged a bit … becoming more painful… but i did find i didn’t DESPISE them anymore, i FORGAVE them. I think i wrote in my memoirs somewhere that they made The Force Awakens look REALLY bad, like trying SOOOO HAAAARD know what i’m sayin’? So i’d take the Phantom Menace because it would remind me of the happy 1,000 hours plus i spent on the Playstation game from 1997-2000. I got stuck on Tattooine fighting a huge monster.
Patrick: What makes the Windmill the right place for your London residency?
Ben: oscar mike golf i LOVE the Windmill. It saved my life.i never chose it, it just happened; Tim asked me to do a residency one year and i guess i passed the interview. I love it. I wouldn’t choose anywhere else but i’m also a Prostitute who can’t say no so if anyone else asked me … know what i’m saying? Pure slut.
Patrick: In another interview you said with a million pounds you would “retire from your job for a year and try to knock out the really great album you think might be in there somewhere under all the frustration.” Do you think you’ll be able to make a less frustrated album without a million pounds?
Ben: i could make it for nowt but i cant just quit my job. I’m completely determined by external forces: i never made a decision in my life, i just follow orders. We’ll see if having a daughter makes me try a bit harder!
Patrick: In a 2020 essay Zadie Smith mused that political art and artists can only echo the speech and energy of the picket line, the meeting of oppressed people and workers etc, it can never be the force for change itself. To me, as well as mocking intolerance through parody, you are making a mockery of artists who imagine that they might write an anthem for substantial change. Was this ever your intention or something you thought about?
Ben: Hmmm… er… i dont tend to have “intentions” when i record; i tend to execute melodies and rhythmns into music – which hath no intentionality, it is simply Music, for me – and then superimpose my clumsy hard fought lyrics on top in the desperate hope that they wont ruin the music! I do not see myself as a successful revolutionary but like Data i am AIMING at that, that is the kind of erm like direction, the discipline. “What are you making music for, is it instead of twiddling your thumbs?” “Sir No Sir! I am attempting something for the Moral Good!” Being antagonistic, iconaclastic etc are part of my medium. The message is: DO GOOD. Does Art change things? Who cares. Intelligent people like Art and tend to murder fewer people than fuckwits who hate art. Is that an over simplification?
Patrick: How did you develop your hooky and catchy style of guitar and keys playing? Have you ever had musical lessons? Do you know a lot of scales?
Ben: parents made me learn piano i hated it; failed grade 2 or 3 and that was the end, i was allowed out; i got pneumonia aged 11 (?) and they told my parents it would be good for my lungs to learn saxophone! I HHHAAAAATED that my god it was 10 times worse than piano. Omg my poor teacher… anyway i used to play the sax solos from The Final Cut, that was nice. And i played the piano parts too now i recall… in the music room in the basement of Druries, my house at the Dump on the Hump. So there’s my musical background, grade 1 piano grade 3 sax (you start at 3). I sucked. I couldnt sing and was not allowed in the choir. Rage! I taught myself electric guitar when i was 17 and Mum bought me my first red strat copy from camden lock market. Awesome guy who bought cheap asian strat copies and set them up nice. It was £75 (1987). Then i got a DOD delay and an MXR flanger and listened to The Cure guitar parts and played along, THAT’S how i learned. By ear!
Patrick: If you could travel back in time and interfere in the sequence of events that would stop the advent of the internet, stop it becoming commonplace in many homes, stop it becoming a tool for Government, stop it completely, would you do it?
Ben: the First Directive or whatever its called states “Do not meddle with other species” and i think time travel meddling comes under that clause. I wouldn’t stop it or change it: humans are like water, you just gotta let them run. Run run run down the drain or wherever. Like Tracy FLICK says at the very start of Election: “He should’ve just accepted things as they are,instead of trying to interfere with destiny.You see, you can’t interfere with destiny.That’s why it’s destiny.And if you try to interfere,the same thing’s just gonna happen anyway, and you’ll just suffer.”
Patrick: Should we pull down statues of racists, slave traders, warlords and alike? Or should we stick a placard on them saying they were nasty bastards? Or something else entirely?
Ben: highly good question! I love destruction but i also love preservation; i hate the empire but i love structure and tradition! Whoa! It seems a bit childish pulling them down. I think a nice big plaque in a big easy to read (legible) Font with the true story would be great. I want the kids to know where their central heating, imported oranges all year, microchips and fucking other spoilt bastard endless crap they DEMAND as their rights COME FROM. The whole lot, all their stuff, even their fucking sleeping bag rolled up under their flea ridden dog in their street corner or squat, is essentially BUILT ON 10 MILLION CORPSES OF MURDERED INNOCENTS. Everyone should be taught EVERYTHING.
Patrick: What do you think is the catchiest song you’ve ever written?
Ben: well its probably “golden apples” isnt it? Thats the one everyone seems to cover with their indie bands. Spiderman In The Flesh usually gets them singing along in the audience. I am proud of the tune of “Bums on A Rock.” Fuck knows how i came up with that! Probably 5 hours hard labour for 2 days in a row or something like that. Before i had a job. Girlfriend supported the team really.
Patrick: In his later live shows Leonard Cohen changed the lyrics in The Future from “give me crack and anal sex” to “give me crack and casual sex”, do you believe he was right to do so?
Ben: oh dear; no, he was wrong, this is always the wrong way to go when you’re a big star; but i have changed lyrics to my song “Can I Pass” because i felt the rhyme was clumsy and i got it better – in my opinion – and it hadn’t been released on a proper album properly so i felt it was ok to change it BUT ! Once you put it out there DONT FUCK WITH IT because it’s THEIRS now, or OURS, it isn’t “Mine”. Fucking idiots like Georg Wuckascj saying “well when we made The New Hopes in 1967 we couldnt make the RD2D go up stairs but now in 2666 we got digital cgi and we can do those things so i’ve changed the whole film to how i wanted it in the first place and its much better and i like it which is the only important thing, not what you think,the fans, you dont matter at all”. No! And remasterinng and remixing, ALL WRONG. You think Ziggy Stardust sounded like a cd when it was played on the dansette in your gran’s bedroom? THATS THE FUCKING ALBUM, NOT the digitally remastered reissue. And no extra tracks! They weren’t there either!
Wrong wrong wrong!
Patrick: Myself and many others are dying to see This Film Should Not Exist, a documentary about yourself and The Country Teasers. Do you know of a planned DVD release or a link people can pay to see it becoming available soon? And if it propels you into some degree of stardom, like DIG! did for Anton Newcome and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, would you play the old songs and tour large venues yearly and quit your day job?
Ben: yes. Well i’d reduce to 2 days a week maybe. They need me on the forklift truck. I’ve got a dvd: i’ll lend it to you.
Patrick: Around Wandsworth I have been seeing flyers for anti-lockdown protests, their slogan is “our freedom doesn’t end where your fear begins?” What would you say to anyone attending these gatherings?
Ben: I listen to Radio 3 and The World Service, i don’t feel the need to write “BBC Radio 3” or “The World SSrvice from the BBC” even though they sometimes do because they are ultimately umble servants – i’m not being ironic – not just servants to the citizens of the Empire/World but also servants to the very fucking simple cause of TRUE NEWS REPORTING AND THE DISSEMINATION OF IMPORTANT INFORMATION. I also read the Guardian. NoW! OBVIOUSLY that means that my reality is filtered through a left-wing medium or what you call it prism that’s the word. BUT : i believe it. THEREFORE : i would say to the anti-Lockdown people and anti-vaccine people “Just do what you fucking want you cunts you’re going to do it anyway fuck you, i hope you die in agony. You CUNTS”. That’s what i’d say. But everyone has the right to protest, as long as they don’t cause too much harm. I felt sorry for that innocent police vehicle on fire in Bristol. That could have been used to drive sound systems around.
Patrick: One of my favourite Rebel tracks is What About Us. You share the vocals with a female backing singer, who’s that singing with you? Are there any plans for future collaborations?
Ben: Aha, the other sense of Ironic: that’s the wife as was, bassist on one CT album and drummer when The Rebel played live circa 2004-2008 ish. Her heroin use got too detrimental to the processes of a)music and b)marriage. So i doubt you’ll be hearing any further collaborations although we collaborate on childcare every day and you never know, she might get clean or I might make the same mistake again of trusting her.
Patrick: I do so love a good rock and roll feud and wondered what your thoughts were on the Fat White Family’s feud with Idles, with FWF saying: “the last thing our increasingly puritanical culture needs right now is a bunch of self-neutering middle-class boobs telling us to be nice to immigrants; you might call that art, I call it sententious pedantry”
Ben: Well i don’t know the ins and outs but that is a very nice statement, i particularly like the use of “boobs”. Fat White Family have several important correct hearts in right places e.g. Palestine, Class War. They also gave me a second wind in my music career; and when i’ve met them they are all EXTREMELY nice. Perhaps there are a few too many drugs flying around the room e.g. alcohol but they’re still quite young and a couple or them need to drop dead before it becomes a problem; meanwhile, we should all keep opening our mouths and saying the first thing that comes into our heads; if we’re wrong, we will learn that way and by being told that we’re wrong. Shades by Good Sad Happy Bad contains a song or two with this theme: cancel culture etc is indeed puritan and there’s a lot of abhorrent censorship BUT i admire the large section of Youth who ACTUALLY ARE WISER than most people over 35 or thereabouts and CAN ACTUALLY HELP US OUT, the older people, by telling us when we get things wrong. Personally i know less and less every day but then i learn other new stuff. As Limmy says, one day it’s all going to “kick aff”, when “the talking stops”. I.e. we all need to keep talking, aloud, so if the feud between Idles and Fat WHite Family stays fresh, out, loud, open, it will be a good contribution to debate. Did you know that civilization was formed by opposing tribes/peoples coming into conflict and having to collaborate or kill each other? That’s what we are doing.
The Rebel’s residency at The Windmill, Brixton runs weekly on Tuesday nights from 1st – 29th June. Information and tickets here.
Interview by Patrick Malone
Live video footage by John Clay