Steve Mason: Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time

The ex-Beta Bandfrontman gives David Hellqvist his honest opinion on politics, banks, the lack of rebel music in 2013 and the horse meat scandal

Steve Mason

With Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time, I wanted to see if I had the balls to make a political concept album, deciding to do it when you have lots of reasons not to – because it’s not always going to be the most popular choice! People in Britain don’t really like their politics and their music to mix – I don’t really know why as it didn’t used to be like that. When I was growing up politics was everywhere in music. You had The Specials who, just by the very fact that they existed, were a political statement at the time! And then, obviously, you had The Clash, The Sex Pistols and Bob Marley – being into Reggae in Britain then was a massively political statement. You knew by the music people listened to what their politics were. That’s been completely lost, there’s no political music at all any more in this country.

I think that, generationally, an interest in politics has been systematically drummed out of young people. If you went out now and asked young people ‘where do you stand politically?’ or ‘what do you think of Cameron’s bedroom tax?’ they’d not know what you were talking about. They systematically avoid politics and think it’s not for them; they think that they don’t have a voice. And they think that politicians operate on the same level as the banks, which is just another world from the one they exist in. But that’s not the case. I mean, decisions are being made on a daily basis that fuck them over, really screwing young people into the ground, turning them into little capitalists and consumers and that alienate them from everything that made them human beings in the first place, when they were born.

Steve Mason, portrait Morgan O'Donovan

Personally, I think that’s being done deliberately so that we end up how we are now: a two party situation where the Liberal Democrats are dead, the Tories are destroying themselves with their policies and Labour… can we forgive them for the Iraq War and for Tony Blair in general? I know I never will. I’ll never forgive the British political establishment for what they’ve done to this country. I don’t differentiate between parties, once those people are in power they all bend over for the military-industry complex, energy companies and the banks – and really, the politicians are just a conduit for the Banks to get what they want, through policies. And that’s why we need an enormous shift in this country away from the system we have now, which is utterly outmoded and unsuited for human beings.

It’s a system that promotes greed and promotes people who are unhinged and slightly psychopathic to rise to the top, that’s the capitalist way; coldness and a lack of empathy are behavioural traits it promotes. Whereas, if you do care about people and you aren’t prepared to make decisions purely based on money, you’re kind of punished for that. I think decentralisation would be key start with. It’s not really my job to provide answers but I will say is: If we start to have a conversation about what’s happening – to everyone, in this country and beyond: Spain, Greece – and we establish a dialogue, the way the system is set-up, everybody is really divided. There used to be things called Trade Unions which would stick up for people in the work place, that system wasn’t perfect but there was something there for people who had trouble at work to fall back on. But those things have gone and not only that but in the work place people are divided from each other and there’s this level of competition that goes on.

Steve Mason, Monkey Minds for Port

There’s been a shift from the workers to the people who have power but it’s a bit more sinister than that; it’s a dehumanisation of the workers so that they feel they’re just a cog in the machine who needs to shut up or else they’ll be sacked. Obviously nobody wants to lose their job because times are very hard, we have children, mortgages, you cannot afford to lose your job and that fact means you do not have any power. Essentially, in terms of solutions, I switch between various solutions but for me some kind of decentralisation of power, in almost every aspect of life, is key. I’d break-up the banks and have a government-led one for each area – it would simply be a case of lending people small amounts of money. I’d break-up the supermarkets and have much more locally-based markets based, as much as possible, on produce that could be developed within that area. Look at this ridiculous horse meat scandal: if you’re surprised that horse meat has ended up in the human food-chain then you don’t understand capitalism. The surprise is that we’re surprised.

I’ve known that something is very very wrong for a long time and there’s political songs on some Beta Band records and there was definitely some political songs on The Boys Outside LP. But I think that we’re reaching a critical point as human beings – in the whole world, not just this country – where if we don’t take control of our bodies and mind very quickly I think we’ll very quickly get to a point where it’s much harder to get rid of the system that’s in place. It’s about acting now, certainly. I didn’t make this record in order to say ‘this where we are, this is what we should do’ – I did it to attempt to start some sort of dialogue, like this, because people in general just don’t really talk about politics. But this is really human politics on a very basic level: free-will, the right to breathe clean air – basic things! I’m not talking about coming at it from a right or left wing stand point, it’s about human politics and that’s something that anyone can relate to. But I’m not interested in forcing anything on anyone, that method would never work.

I’m sure there are people coming into politics with the best of intentions – it would be stupid to imagine that everyone who gets into politics is a psychopath, that isn’t true at all – but their intentions don’t matter because they’re hampered and hindered and stopped from doing anything of any worth at every turn. The civil service is a job for life, they’re not voted in and they are the people who the banks, military-industrial complex and the energy companies are getting to tell the politicians what to do. That’s my view of it. So you can have the best intentions but it does not matter because you’re not allowed to change anything. The whole point of the civil service is to keep the stays quo so that the system never changes.

I don’t know anyone who’s attempting to really say anything in music today. I think, generally, the disappointing thing is the lack of any sort of expression about anything other than what Rhianna wore to the MTV awards. You see people talking about that in interviews as if it were a valid thing to talk about but it’s just a way of keeping everyone behind the closed curtains. They know that if people got behind the curtain then – hopefully – some kind of change would happen, once they saw the filthy, disgusting, beast that’s running the world!

As told to David Hellqvist
Photography Morgan O’Donovan

Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time is out Monday 18th, 2013