Experimental doom/punk band Surya caught my attention last year when my band shared a stage with them at Dreadfest in Leeds last year. I had never seen nor heard of them before, but after catching just a few minutes of their performance I was immediately enamoured by their urgency and use of crushing sonic weight and stark unrelenting visuals. It reminded me of when I first saw Neurosis, they spoke volumes without uttering a single word. It’s been a long time since a band left such an impression upon me and I wanted to know more. I sent guitarist Greg Lewis a handful of questions to suss out what makes Surya tick, here’s what he had to say….
Nathan Bean: Please detail the secret origin of Greg Lewis, how you first discovered hardcore and what made you think “YES” this is it
Greg Lewis: My not so secret origins lie in beautiful hills and mystical levels of Somerset around Glastonbury and Cheddar and the grey and depressingly shitty seaside towns of Burnham-on-Sea and Weston-Super-Mare. I must say that absolutely adore my homeland, but I found it miserable and stultifying as a child. Just a lot of kids smoking a lot of disgusting hash full of plastic, ketamine, nothing to do except for gamble on fruit machines.
I discovered metal and hardcore through the older skaters in my town in the late 90s. Sadly that was also the era of nu-metal, which I was absolutely not immune to! Anyway, I learned about proper hardcore punk through skateboard videos. I remember watching 411 videos and hearing everything from indie bands like the Throwing Muses, through to stuff like Dr Know, Minor Threat and 7 Seconds. In the early-mid 2000s, when I was at A-Level college, all the Household Name Records type bands like Five Knuckle from Bristol used to come through Bridgwater and they would bring zines with them. They were the first proper DIY punk bands I actually came into direct contact with. Also, I saw Knuckledust and Stampin’ Ground in Weston at this grebo nightclub called Hobbits. They fucking blew me away.
The moment I thought ‘yes this is it’ though, was actually discovering the more of the UK hardcore scene and straight edge bands through a zine called Rancid News which later became Last Hours. I got one copy of that and as well as being full of great news about animal liberation, politics, protest and so on I found out about Dead and Gone Records and Kent bands like November Coming Fire, The Break In and of course On Thin Ice! (not to inflate your ego too much Nathan) I absolutely loved getting the train to Newport, which had the best scene locally and seeing kids moshing and flying all over the place, just the amazing energy of it all, that’s what sealed the deal for me.
Nathan Bean: Surya appears to be a very “together” band in every respect, aesthetics, sound, visuals. It’s evident this is not your first rodeo. What was your first band like and at what point did you make the decision to be a contributor rather than consumer?
Greg Lewis: The first band I actually played in properly was Tyburn. I have played guitar since I was 10 years old and used to play with friends, but I never played a show until I was in my twenties. I think I was too shy and unsure of myself to do actually anything. I was more involved in political activism and I used to contribute to Last Hours zine. I always thought it was important to put something back. Don’t be scared everyone, get off your arse and do something, make a zine, start a band, book shows, help out with cooking food for bands, whatever it is that makes this shit happen. However, don’t be one of those annoying stage potato people, I hate that. We really don’t need ten people sitting on the stage taking pictures. I came to watch the band not you.
Nathan Bean: How did Surya come together, how did you find each other.
Greg Lewis: Raquel and Bartek were both working together in a vegan restaurant in London called Manna. Raquel started to learn how to play the drums and started jamming with Bartek. This slowly developed into Sūrya, with Bartek’s friend Rafał joining on guitar and Mark on bass. Shortly after “Apocalypse A.D” was released Rafał left the band and I joined. I’ve been in the band for three years. I think they only played one or two shows before I joined.
Nathan Bean: Surya strikes me as a band that is very much a vehicle for ideas and not just heaviness and texture for arts sake. It’s punk with a very tangible sense of impending doom and reminds me of Fall Of Efrafa or Neurosis in that regard. What are the ideas you are articulating on the new record?
Greg Lewis: I think it’s interesting that you see us as a punk band. I think that’s how we see ourselves. We are all from DIY punk backgrounds and it is totally integral to who we are and what we want to do. We get labelled as everything from post-rock, to ‘post-metal’ – whatever the fuck that is – to sludge metal, but the ideas are really what ties the band together. That’s what made me want to join the band in the first place. The fact that messages about animal, human and earth liberation were central to the concept.
The new record, which is out on Argonauta Records from Italy is called Solastalgia. The term solastalgia is a neologism which refers to the psychic distress that we feel in the face of a loss of our home – the Earth – and environmental disaster. This is the main theme of the record. It’s an expression of melancholy at the injustice we see all around us. The music, along with the visuals and samples are intended to encourage some introspection and ultimately action.
Nathan Bean: When I’ve seen you guys live there’s been heavy use of samples and visuals. It works really well with the sparse vocals. Was that conceptual from the start? Who orchestrates all the samples on the records and where do you find them all?
Greg Lewis: The samples on the first album were mostly from Bartek. They come from documentaries and from old interviews with figures like Prof. Carl Jung. The band was never intentionally purely instrumental, but I think sometimes is good to let other maybe more inspirational people’s words do the talking to get the message across. We all collaborated on the samples on the new record. We have samples from native-American activist John Trudell and from an English folk-horror film called Penda’s Fen. The other lyrics were written by Bartek and myself.
Nathan Bean: We are living in truly toxic times, aggressive right wing/ conservative attitudes are openly and embraced in mainstream media but have become more scarily apparent in the underground. I’ll admit this caught me slipping, naively I’d always felt like these values were simply not present in punk anymore. Has Surya as a band and as individuals had direct conflict at shows with these attitudes?
Greg Lewis: Yeah, this is new to me too! I was disappointed by the recent revelations that The Baron from Amebix has gone full speed down the alt-right rabbit hole. Also, this shitty band from slam metal Sheffield who’s name I won’t mention. I’d never heard of them before and never want to hear of them again. Anyway, was right-wing bullshit present in punk before? Obviously, they existed in the Oi! Scene, but not really anywhere else in UK punk. Maybe in America. A lot American hardcore is pretty patriotic and shit, like Warzone, Agnostic Front and so on, but they weren’t exactly nazis. In America all of the pro-life-vegan-straight edge stuff just fits in with the bat-shit American puritanical versions of Christianity. Often the line between some vegan-straight-edge bands/beliefs and eco-fascism isn’t exactly clear and I think that is something to watch out for.
Luckily, in general, we’ve only met lovely people at our gigs. Although, we played at a squat in Poznan in western Poland, called Rozbrat. It was a snappily named fest called ‘Fuck Fascism’. We played with some great bands like Dezerter and Crude SS. Anyway, for anyone that doesn’t know, Rozbrat is the longest running anarchist squat in Poland. There’s so much history there. In their living/backstage area there were old posters from the early-90s with bands like Vader who had played. They have a library, a gym, a temporary home for homeless people and generally does great stuff for the community there. They’re now under threat of eviction so please check them out and support them.
Some right-wing football hooligans tried to attack the squat while we were there, and you could really feel the tension. In years past the squat has been attacked en-masse by Nazis. One girl was even stabbed whilst sleeping in her bed. She would have died if she didn’t get medical assistance. Our driver Durda had also been stabbed by a Nazi in his town. Poland is gnarly! Anyway, Nazi bullshit needs to be stamped out now unless you want to live in a world where stuff like that goes on!
Nathan Bean: You were involved with the short lived band Tyburn. What was the story with that band, how it came to be and how it wrapped up.
Greg Lewis: The band started because John Olley (xRepentancex) got some of his old Peterboro mates in the form of Dom Fitzsimmons and Dave B (Fifty on Red) together to do a 90s style chuggy band. John had also been trying to get Dargs (xCanaanx, On Thin Ice etc.) to do a new band with him for ages, so all those guys were on board, and they asked me to play bass. They had most of the demo written when I joined the band. We went and recorded that at Lightship Studios which is this awesome studio on the river Lea. Dave B decided it wasn’t for him and we got Big Dave from HHH to come on board for a while who played on an unreleased split that we recorded with Jason Frye. They’re all online somewhere still if people can be arsed looking for them.
I think the band had more potential, but everything seemed to go wrong. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, so it was a learning curve for me. I was also a total mess and prioritised being a waste of space and taking drugs. I wasn’t very happy back then. I would often show up to practice high on speed after being at some shitty squat party or something all weekend. I think John just got fed up with it as it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I think it’s a shame that we never managed to put out those couple of tracks that we recorded. Musically, I loved what we were trying to do. It was a mix of stuff like early-Hatebreed, Earthmover, Left For Dead etc. John’s lyrics were great too, all about anti-fascism and so on.
Nathan Bean: I’m sure you’ve been out and seen some ugly stretches of road of the year. Tell me the most fucked up thing you’ve seen as a direct result of your involvement in hardcore.
Greg Lewis: You know, I’ve seen endless fights, been involved in a share of them because of the macho bullshit that goes on. I’ve seen worse things outside of hardcore though. Ultimately punk, hardcore, whatever, should be a place where we can get away from all the fucked-up stuff that happens in the normie real world. I don’t really know how to answer this question because it’s not something I would want to glorify.
Nathan Bean: I’m always interested in the grimy little stories and local myths that emanate from provincial towns and the nowhere places that hardcore kids come from. What did your hometown have? Any local killers of renown? Go to school with someone who became infamous? UFO hotspot? Lake monsters etc?
Greg Lewis: I think the individual of greatest infamy that lived in my town when I was growing up was Paul Francis Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter. He lived in Burnham, but also Wedmore where I went to middle school. My dad said he was a loner and that lads would always shout, “Oi! Gary! Wanna be in my gang!?” at him. Anyway, he was in a ‘relationship’ with a girl who was an 11-year-old child when they met, the whole family allowed it to happen because they were starstruck by him, but then they cried to the tabloid newspapers for money after he was arrested. Anyway, it’s not nice to think there was a glam rock nonce walking about the place where I was living as a child. Odin bless the staff at the PC World in Bristol who discovered the contents of his laptop.
My last thoughts for the interview will be to support Rozbrat Squat
“It is quite likely that Rozbrat will be forced to enter an expensive and complicated legal battle in order to defend itself. That could be costly, and the squat decided to ask for solidarity donations to cover legal costs. Anyone who is able to do so, can donate to this account: BIGBPLPW 03 1160 2202 0000 0002 3589 7475 with reference “Donation to save Rozbrat”.
Surya bandcamp page, where you can also pick up the Solastagia LP and probably other stuff too.