Gen and the Degenerates release their latest track Cocaine, Getintothis’ Mostyn Jones sat down with Gen to talk cocktails, tattoos and building melodic momentum.
I meet Gen Degenerate in Brunch Club on Duke Street, the bar is experimenting with their menu and we’re here to talk music, promoting, and degeneracy over some flashy cocktails.
It might be a step above a chat over a pint, but this is someone who’s had interviewers tag along while her band, Gen and the Degenerates, got tattoos. So this sits pretty low down on the rockstar scale.
Mentioning the tattoo is inevitable, so we get it out of the way early, “People always want to talk about the tattoos” she tells me.
And it’s not an unreasonable thing to ask, she and her bandmates each have the word DEGENERATE etched into their skin, Gen’s is on display, emblazoned across her clavicle like a superhero’s crest.
She’s wearing her favourite shade of red, red shirt, red lipstick, red sunglasses; the kind of sharp powerful colours your friend who’s into fashion tells you to only use as an accent or an accessory.
But for Gen this is her look, she’s a frontwoman, all power, all rockstar. “It’s budget rockstar, these are really cheap sunglasses, it’s fake it ‘til you make it”.
After some late-night online shopping, she ordered a whole case of the same glasses in green to use as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign for the band’s single, Jesus Green.
With the rock star look, the rock star name, and the savvy publicity antics, you could easily wonder how much of this is more about branding than music.
It’s a crowded marketplace for personal brands and turning yourself into a character’s one way to stand out.
But she laughs off the idea that it’s all just marketing,
“It’s all me on stage. It might just be a part of me, but it’s me. I love the mythology of rock stardom and obviously that’s what I’m going for but that doesn’t mean it’s not also genuine”
Gen came to the city to study Drama and Creative writing, where she met most of her bandmates, it wasn’t until after graduating that they assembled the full Degenerate lineup and decided to go for being a ‘proper band.’
I ask whether her background has influenced the band’s style, she says if it has, it wasn’t intentional.
“I wasn’t a very drama-y drama student, personal drama’s another thing. We all mine our own trauma for material all the time, I’ll probably start actively seeking out trauma when we need more inspiration”
Regardless of what other star qualities the band have, one rock’n’roll tradition they seem unlikely to get in to is behind the scenes drama. There’s no sign of onstage tantrums or creative differences, their dynamic is all about mutual support and creative freedom.
“Last year I got out of a really toxic relationship and they were all there for me a hundred per cent, everyone’s been through their own shit and we’re there for each other”
Gen doesn’t disagree when I suggest the band acts as a support group of sorts, the communal spirit has taken them from strength to strength; releasing new material and landing a string of gigs including support for Average Sex and upcoming dates with WSTR, Tigress, and Blood Red Shoes.
To listen to their music, it’s clear the feeling there is real. In a song like Weatherman, her voice is steady and commanding with a strength that’s operatic and reminiscent of some choral power. The song builds to crescendo backed by a drumbeat pounding like a broken heart, it’s an exorcism in which she plays the priestess.
Sonically you could liken their sound to Savages, but tonally it’s more of a mess, that’s not an insult, it’s messy like emotions are messy.
This isn’t the authoritative voice of pain that’s been conquered but a vulnerable voice of a pain expressed.
“It’s an equal partnership, we don’t just dump our pain on each other but we do dump it on the music”
Everyone brings their own emotion to the work, Gen’s inspiration is Amy Winehouse, mixed with more rocky influences, but what about their collective musical influences?
“We all have our own tastes that go into the band, we’re alt-rock if we had to define ourselves, there’s punk and classic rock, and some more pop-influenced stuff. Some of the boys are into really long songs. Experimental rock stuff, so there’s some of that coming up, which gives me a chance to do some spoken word over the top”
The tunes the band currently working on draw from different sounds.
Their last release, Jesus Green is the cheeriest thing they’ve put out, still rocky but something you can dance to as well. Gen tells me they’ve got something a lot heavier coming along soon that will be followed by something punky before they can finally get into their baroque phase and drop that ten-minute spoken word epic.
Do the band seek a particular sound? Does letting the song emerge organically lead to something that might be good, but isn’t the degenerates?
“We wouldn’t think about it like that. We’re the Degenerates, and anything we make sounds like us”
Does that mean there’s an ethos behind the name, a Degenerate manifesto perhaps?
“There are actually loads of dictionary definitions of degenerate. It’s a sexual deviant, someone mentally unfit, or who’s fallen below society’s standards. Then there’s the idea of degenerating, which can mean someone who’s being pulled back by their past, reverting to something, and we’ll all always fit at least one of those definitions”
We move onto the subject of Degenerate Productions. As well as heading up her own band Gen moonlights as a promoter, running gigs, many of them female-driven, queer, or otherwise just outside the mainstream.
She tells me there’s a lot of great people in the city who support diversity in music, but when she first started she realised that making progress takes effort.
Clearly the Degenerates want to be a positive force, and while Liverpool has produced plenty of high-quality indie boys, it is a city with a lot more to offer.
She speaks highly of support from the Jacaranda, local press, and projects like Merseyrail Soundstation, who have given them opportunities to perform and connect with fellow artists.
Her extra-curricular efforts have taken off, with a residency Jimmy’s due to start as well as a show on Melodic Distraction. With so much going on I ask if they’re working towards an album. From our conversation, it seems they’re focusing on gigs and the idea of rushing an album out for the sake of it holds no appeal.
“We’re a stadium band, who can’t afford a stadium yet, I‘m ready, I’m just waiting for the fans to catch up.”
Gen and the Degenerates will support WSTR at Phase One on the 13th of September.
Their next single ‘Cocaine/ Yoko Oh No‘ is out on the 14th.