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Art, as told by John Robb

John Robb is a singer for The Membranes, writer and Editor-in-Chief of Louder Than War, a monthly music magazine and famously the first journalist to interview Nirvana.

Inspired by the music of the 1970's, John formed The Membranes and released several albums throughout the 1980's before disbanding. In 2010 the band reformed and went on to release Dark Matter/Dark Energy, an album which was famously launched with a live show at the top of Blackpool Tower - the first time a band has performed at the top of this iconic building. More recently, their 'Universe Explained' concert has been performed throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, featuring a twenty-five piece choir.

John has a very considered view of the world, especially art and music.

This is art, according to John.

Art is…

Art is total self-expression. Art is different things to different people. It’s purely instinctive, It’s whatever pours out. It’s the highest form of human expression. To me, music is the highest of the highest. I love painting and other forms of art, but music is the most primal and the most perfect and the most timeless.

The creative world’s best-kept secret?

The artist Henry Fuseli, the painting 'The Nightmare’ we used it on the last album cover. I’ve got really into old art over the last few years. Obviously growing up modern art looks great because it looks modern, but then you start to realise 15th-19th-century painters are amazing. The depth and detail, the dark atmospherics of the paintings are what I love about his paintings. So even though The Nightmare is quite a famous looking painting, it’s got loads of things going on and you think ‘wow’ it’s actually quite spooky, but has a sense of dark humour about it. It’s about sleep paralysis. A lot of his paintings are like that. Another of his paintings I used for a sleep had a lot of angels flying up to heaven. I like a lot of religious overtones.

It’s a dark painting and the album is called Dark Matter/Dark Energy - I thought it would be nice to put it in a different context and because it has a dark subtext to it, it sort of matches the content of the album.

Free expression

I don’t think you can be concerned about what the people want. Obviously, you don’t deliberately make stuff for people not to like. Music is instinctive. When we made the Membranes album, we had no idea people were going to like it. It’s a self-indulgent record. I made it for myself really. I just want to make one record in my life and that I can listen to all the way through and not go ‘oh it doesn’t sound right’ So I made it sound the way I wanted to, spent ages on the sound and production to get a record that I could put my headphones on and go ‘fuck that’s good’. I approached a group of friends and they said that the record sounded good and I didn’t have any idea at all that anyone else would have liked it and I think that’s a very cliche thing to say for underground bands, but it’s actually true, most people will make music that they think sounds good to themselves

People hate the cliche of ‘if you make it and if other people like it you’re lucky’ but it’s true. You can’t contrive success. Many bands that are big didn’t contrive it.

When you talk about cult bands, nobody wants to be in a cult band. Nobody is trying to be a failure. Nobody is trying to make music that nobody else likes. They still want people to connect with what they’re trying to do or understand their ideas and why they’re trying to do it. The more space you have to create art, the more art you can make.

The power of the artist

I love that expression 'art is a mirror and a hammer'; you reflect what’s going on and you smash the mirror as well. I think everybody has art inside them but it how they express it. Even if it’s the lowest form of art; the way you dress or making music. I love the idea of punk because it isn't necessarily about being in a band, but in a way, four blokes being in a band was the most aggressive way to make art in the punk era.


You can catch The Membranes at their next show in London, June 3rd. More details on the band can be found via their Facebook page.

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