Undercurrent In our uncertain times, have you been finding ways to stay creative?
Djamila Azzouz: I’ve always taken part in various creative projects, but the focus is always on Ithaca, it takes up almost all of my time and nothing else has quite taken off in the way that this has. As with most people I always have the best intentions to work on things, I just don’t have the energy to expend on other projects after being so dedicated to this one.
Ithaca released The Language of Injury back in 2019, how have things been for the band since then?
Things have been so, so good. The nice/annoying thing was that the record took so fucking long to put out that we built up a lot of anticipation for it, which surprised me personally. I was under the impression that by the time the record came out no one would really care anymore, but it has been a nice surprise that it took off and was received in the way that it was [Undercurrent official review: The record absolutely fucking slaps, 10 pints out of 10]
The response was so good. Everyone was so nice about it, and it sounds like quite an arrogant thing to say, but I don’t think we have had a truly bad review, which is unreal. We’ve had less-than-glowing reviews where people haven’t liked specific aspects or songs, and we’re always open to that, but I am yet to see a review that has really been like ‘This album fucking sucks’ so, you know, come on you cowards.
How has lockdown affected the band?
Well, it all happened when we were on tour with Big Thief, which to that point had been so, so special. We had just played a show in Germany and there were murmurs among the touring party and crew about lockdowns. We were driving to Copenhagen that night and we found out that the government had banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people, which the show was scheduled to be. The promoter had decided to split the show into two to comply with the guidelines, but things snowballed so quickly even within that 24 hours. We played the matinee show and it was when we came off stage that we found out the tour was over, it was so devastating. We spent something like three days to get back to the UK with everyone closing their borders.
In true fucking English fashion, having driven back through Denmark, Germany, France where it was all a bit tense at border crossings, we finally got back to the UK and not one person asked us where we had been or what we had been doing, it was madness, especially at the time, it was the start of the pandemic, it was all so scary, not even one check.
Was coming back into this uncertain landscape difficult?
We as a band came back straight from this wonderful tour straight into lockdown, straight into basically a month of isolation as we’d been out the country. The total impact was difficult to navigate, the mental impact of that transition was very strange. I mean, basically we are a bunch of nobodies and we were out playing in six thousand capacity rooms, which was the stupidest, most fun time we’ve ever had, and we went from that straight to boom, it’s cancelled, you can’t leave your house for a month, I was really sad about it. You talk about post tour blues, post holiday blues where you’re upset to be home, this was like that but tenfold.
For me personally touring is exhausting as it is and I cannot say enough just how amazing this tour was, to be out there with this band we all look up to and whose music is so emotional as well. Each night that we played together was a profound experience, so it was so fucking weird to come home from that abruptly. I’m an outrageously emotional person anyway.
Is the band still working on material during lockdown?
We are definitely still writing. We have a pretty good system where Sam (Chetan-Welsh, guitarist) records pieces and then we all collaborate on it, bounce ideas off each other, but it’s not ideal. As a band the way we write is together in a practice room, so whilst we are trying to be productive in this time, it is fucking hard.
If you are a dickhead and you are gonna be offended by what I am saying then you’re the exact type of dickhead I don’t want to talk to, and the type of dickhead we do not want at our shows. It’s always been black and white to usDjamila Azzouz
Do you feel there is undue pressure to be productive right now?
I really commend anyone that can be even remotely productive during this time. I truly feel like that towards the beginning of lockdown there was this pressure to be productive, this culture of write a book, learn a language, make fucking sourdough and that shit and I just do no subscribe to any of that garbage at all. This is uncharted territory for everyone and no one should be made to feel guilty for simply existing in it.
Changing lanes, how important is it to be outspoken right now?
There’s a big difference in being outspoken and trying to help the cause and then the performative bullshit. People really love to talk the talk and do all sorts of shit for clout without ever doing anything material or real to help. Even then within speaking out, I’m so wary of seeing people speaking over other voices, speaking over black people’s voices, so it’s not just about being outspoken as a blanket term. You have to speak out and help in every way that you can, not just talk about it, but it can’t be over people, it has to be it has to be in the right way.
Is this especially important with the platform of the band?
Obviously not everyone can get out to a protest, but there are still things that can be done. People that are actively educating, giving people a platform, that’s just as cool to see. The thing that does wind me up though is people, and particularly people in bands, that are saying the ‘right’ thing but you can plainly tell that it is disingenuous. If you want to pander to bullshit people go do it, die on that hill, I don’t give a shit, but there are people that seem to be desperate to say the right thing to every single person, but you can’t do that. Especially talking about racism and systemic violence against minorities, it is so patently abhorrent and it is so clear, it is not a matter of opinion, you would think that you can’t denounce it in the wrong way yet some people still manage to.
Do you feel bands, or artists are sometimes scared of taking these stands?
I think people are so often scared of calling things out because they are scared of losing face. I have never understood that mentality, ever. If you are a dickhead and you are gonna be offended by what I am saying then you’re the exact type of dickhead I don’t want to talk to, and the type of dickhead we do not want at our shows. It’s always been black and white to us, I guess it’s maybe like culling people off.
I understand that there are bands that aren’t as opinionated as us, that don’t voice these opinions as loudly as us, but there are things that you just cannot be quiet about. It would kill me to know that we played shows with sketchy people in the audience, I mean you can never control that, but people that weren’t aware of what our stances on certain issues are and felt they could come to the show. That’s just not us.
People can always be worse in ways you never thought possible.Djamila Azzouz