Interview with John Armstrong (Songwriting/Guitars/Vocals) of The Speed Of Sound and Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
PD: What type of artist are you?
JA: Genres are a bit awkward, but Louder Than War said we were “Post-Punk blood powered by a heartbeat of 1960’s influences” which is – I think – pretty much on the button. The Speed Of Sound have been doing their own thing blending styles to make their own sound for well over 30 years. We’re very much underground artists, not really through choice, more so because the major labels aren’t interested in our kind of music. We want to sound like us. There are enough bands out there trying to copy like their own favourites, we just want to be us.
PD: Tell us a brief history of yourself.
JA: The Speed Of Sound formed in 1989 and released their first EP that year, there have been many line-up changes since then (we’re on our 10th drummer) but the current set of players has been stable for four years. We’ve played across the UK and in mainland Europe, been on over a hundred radio stations (I only started counting in 2014 so missed a load I should think) in twenty different countries. We release independently on our own label here in Manchester UK and started co-releasing with Big Stir Records in California in 2019. They’re a good fit for us as we both see music as art not a competition and we thrive on community and working together. Aside from The Speed Of Sound, I also play in another original band called Weimar, write for American music magazine Rock At Night and host a weekly Independent music show on Mad Wasp Radio.
PD: Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
JA: That varies a lot within the band but my own personal music influences range from classical through jazz to classic rock and punk, covering a lot of ground in-between. A lot of the music I enjoy listening to I don’t necessarily sound like (or want to sound like), it is more like forming a sound from a lot of different elements. Favourites? It would likely get a different answer every day but: Favourite guitar player? Probably Terje Rypdal. Favourite songwriter? Probably Kristen Hersh. Favourite band? I have more LPs by The Who than anyone else, but then they have made a lot of albums… Non musical influences? I take a lot of inspiration from other art forms, written, visual and anyone who doesn’t compromise on creativity.
PD: What are your dreams and goals?
JA: I just want to keep making music and keep enjoying doing it. The pandemic situation has meant I’m not even thinking about playing gigs again until we know things will actually happen rather than making plans that constantly need changing, realistically just dreaming of getting to play live and record as a band again. If you like what you’re doing and enjoy doing it, that is success.
PD: Who writes your songs, what are they about?
JA: I’m the songwriter for The Speed OfSound; I always start with the lyrics and let the music reflect what is in there. We work on the music together but basically I’ll have put a demo together and give the others an idea of where it is going musically and we play through to see how it changes when the other parts come in. We’re all improvisors so there is a lot of listening going on in the early stages to see what is happening. There are already enough people writing ‘normal’ songs, so I like to explore other territory; sometimes its cryptic, sometimes open, so we have songs about a ship full of toxic waste (Karin B), the ring road in Rio de Janeiro (Always Seems To Fall) or sexual harassment in the workplace (I Don’t Want Your attentions) and corporate vandalism (Shut All The Clubs). Subject matter varies but it is always about something.
PD: How do you promote your band and shows?
JA: Through interviews like this? That’s certainly part of it. The internet is a giant opportunity but it is also a blizzard of information and getting seen on it is problematic. We have social media presences but you can easily end up promoting their platform rather than doing your own thing, so I try to focus things round our own website. We’ve done the traditional method of physical posters and press/magazines etc too. We’re lucky in working with Big Stir Records because they also do that and they have a much larger reach than we can get alone. Things have come a long way since 1989 when you’d have to post a physical cassette to someone and hope they’d listen to it.
PD: What do you think about downloading music online?
JA: I like physical things when it comes to music, that is why we issue on vinyl and CD. However, international postage has gone through the roof in recent years and it costs more to post than the price of the album so I understand the attraction of downloads. However, I don’t think its possible to base an entire sub-culture on a digital thumbnail picture, that isn’t the case with a vinyl LP. They are actual works of art, built to last and I get a sense of many people not feeling or ‘investing’ so much in music now as when physical was normal. Streaming has its uses but I’m definitely not a fan of ‘renting’ access to music. The streaming platforms have everything stitched up with their major label buddies and no one else sees any money. They think they are more important than the music itself.
PD: What song do you wish you’d written and why?
JA: Probably something like Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten’ there is so much drama in the introduction even before her voice starts and then it takes off and soars. The smart answer would be Merry Xmas Everyone because of the £££, but no; art over popularity every time.
PD: What are some of your pet peeves?
JA: People that don’t do what they say they will and time wasters. Time is all we have. I resent having to use it for nonsense. I try not to be annoyed about stuff generally, you can waste a lot of time being cross about things!
PD: What is your proudest moment in music?
JA: Achieving stuff with other people is top of the list rather than solitary things – although, one afternoon over 40 years ago when I decided despite the pain and awkwardness I was going to lean bar chords (and did it) that was good. It is the building bricks of the foundation, there is nothing there if you don’t take those early steps. Hearing the test pressings of the new album is up there too. Knowing what we’ve achieved together as a team.
PD: So what are you working on at the moment?
JA: If it weren’t for the pandemic we’d be very advanced with the next-next-album; probably already mixing or even mastering it. When lockdown started we’d begun working on 24 new songs and had five of those pretty much at the point of going into studio to record. As it is; we’re more or less in suspended animation like on an interplanetary flight. We’ll get there! However, we had finished recording the new album and we were able to mix and master it during lockdown. Vinyl production times are really long but it is at the pressing plant now and release is autumn.
PD: What music have you available online and where can we buy it from?
JA: The new album will be out in the autumn so there is more on the way too, all the physical releases in the back catalogue are available directly from our website thespeedofsounduk.com
I’m rebuilding the whole site at the moment but the shop page is still functional, and you can also get it from bandcamp https://thespeedofsound.bandcamp.com digital versions are everywhere you’d normally look. The recent singles are also available via BigStirRecords.com which will be the case with the new album too.
The Speed Of Sound links:
Band/Artist location – Manchester UK
Website – Facebook – You Tube – Bandcamp – Merch –
Reverbnation – Twitter – Instagram – Apple – Spotify – Deezer
Check our page for The Speed Of Sound