Viagra Boys: “A lot of our output is a celebration of being a fuck-up”

Viagra Boys: “A lot of our output is a celebration of being a fuck-up”

“There’s always some anxiety when releasing an album, especially when it’s old in your eyes,” Viagra Boys frontman Sebastian Murphy admits over Zoom, dialled in from the comfort of his Swedish apartment. For the whole of 2020, the Stockholm punks were sat on the rodeo post-punk whirlwind ‘Welfare Jazz’, the follow-up to their 2018 debut ‘Street Worms’.

READ MORE: Viagra Boys – ‘Welfare Jazz’ review: satirical post-punk bangers with a ‘yeehaw!’ spirit

Though it’s been held back for reasons Murphy claims to have “no idea about”, the timing does feel right. Last year may have been tumultuous, but it did offer some much-needed time for reflection. For Viagra Boys, that meant traversing break-ups, admitting addictions and coming to terms with being, as Murphy puts it, a “jerk”. Along the way, there were doubts, he says, of “’Does this album suck?’”. But when the band realised that they’d created something they’re proud of, the insecurities soon subsided.

We caught up with him to talk through the new album, their new country twangs, and delved into the third album rumours.

Hi Seb! How has 2020 been treating you all?

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It’s been fine for us in Sweden. There aren’t too many restrictions so as a band, we can meet up, practice and write. It’s not as stressful as it usually would be. We’ve been playing around with how the new songs will work live, rather than madly testing the shit out of them at shows.

“Personally, I’ve had a great time, too, which does suck to say as many people haven’t, but this is the best I’ve felt in years. It’s been like a long spa. I’ve been working everyday as a tattooist, but really enjoy that so have had lots of fun.”

Did writing ‘Welfare Jazz’ help you come to the realisation that you needed to take more time for yourself?

“Not really, it was more my friends telling me that I was being a jerk, and my girlfriend at the time breaking up with me. My general attitude towards myself wasn’t that nice either – I was really depressed, and it was a shitty place to be. But there’s no point in being stuck feeling that way; you’ve got to try to do better and keep going. In a way, it was cathartic to write music during that period to help me get over it.

“A lot of our output is a celebration of being a fuck-up. If it was emo music, you’d be sitting there embracing and living in the sadness. For me, it’s about making a party out of it and going on to the next party.”

The new track ‘I Feel Alive’ feels quite poignant in this journey – tell us about it

“I wrote it at a time where my entire life was waking up, doing a fat rail of speed and then spending the rest of the day trying to find more speed. [The song] is quite sarcastic as after doing that first line, you’d feel so alive, but then spent the rest of the day feeling as if it was the end. I don’t like thinking about it now – I feel alive today though, so that’s good.

“We started playing the music together in the studio, but it didn’t have any lyrics yet. I found the line I’d written in my notes app where I keep all my ideas. It just said, ‘Jesus Christ, I feel alive’, but I’d definitely written it at a time where I did not feel alive.”

Despite being in a punk band, your work isn’t overtly political…

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“During my first year of playing in a band, I was a bit insecure and felt some pressure around writing certain things. The thing is, I suck at writing that shit and it doesn’t inspire me whatsoever. You end up being political by just existing, and that’s enough for me. I don’t need to sit and write some smart political line. I don’t know how to express myself in that way – I prefer metaphors.”

Is that why you tend to have a lot of weird and wacky imagery, from the undercover Weimaraner dog in ‘Secret Canine Agent’ to the shrimp references in ‘Girls & Boys’?

 “My brain is obsessed with dogs, and for a while it was obsessed with shrimps. I think it came from when I was on speed; I thought about shrimp all day. My mind gets stuck on a few subject matters and they permeate through all my work, in both artwork and music. It’s really hard to explain – I’ll have to talk to a psychologist to see what it’s all about.

“A lot of Viagra Boys is creating this fucked up fantasy world that I made up in my head, with all the images of dogs, shrimps, spies and weird shit. We wanted to make an album for people that’d listen to it from start to finish and see the cohesive red tape running through. With the weird little intermissions we have in there too [such as ‘Cold Play’ and ‘Best In Show II’], you can create a whole world so people can try and make sense of it all. There was one song that I wanted to get on there, but the others disagreed. It’s called ‘Pig Farm’ – they all thought the lyrics were too gross and sexual.”

There’s a hint of country on the new record that we didn’t hear on ‘Street Worms’. Where did that come from?

“It just happened as we don’t like making the same song over and over again. All of us listen to completely different music, and none of it’s post-punk, so as a group we’ll try out everyone’s ideas and it always sounds like Viagra Boys.

“I only listened to country at the time too, artists like Waylon Jennings and Towns Van Zandt, so wanted to test out different singing styles, which I’m glad showed through. Also, a lot of the lyrics came from typical county themes, like ‘Ramblin’ Man’ [by Hank Williams], or an outlaw type vibe.”

Did you struggle at all bringing the Viagra Boys sound to your cover of John Prine’s ‘In Spite of Ourselves’, which features Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers? The acoustic original is very far from your typical approach

 “We did try an acoustic version to begin with, but it sounded too much like the original, which we didn’t want to do. One of our producers, Pelle [Gunnerfeldt], fucked around with it a lot, made it weird and added the sad tone which I love. Amy was perfect for it too. I’ve never heard anyone sing country with such a deep Australian drawl. We’re both outsiders in a way and have a really nice relationship, so it matches the song really well.

“[Prine’s] widow actually posted an Instagram story and wrote, ‘John would have loved this song, he loved filthy rock and roll’. That really warmed my heart so I’m glad we did it.” 

We’ve heard that you’ve already got another album ready. Can you give us any hints on what to expect? 

“We’ve recorded another 11 songs and they’re super good. I want to talk about that shit but can’t.”

Credit: press

Go on…

“It’s R&B-fused jazz…  I’m joking! We’ve been a lot rawer with it as we recorded it all in six days. [It was a] ‘Bam! That’s done – perfect’ sort of thing. Usually, the songs get dissected and reworked a thousand times, so when the album’s out, they’re completely different to how they started.

“There’s definitely a tweak in sound, but it’s just rock’n’roll. Lots of blues, lots of rock. There’s sad songs and heavy songs. We’ve all been cooped up and at home, banging out new ideas so have just been having fun with it. We’ve got a good year ahead of us.”

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