Theatre of Hate Continues to Proudly Champion the Punk Scene
by Eric Althoff
Kirk Brandon knows he doesn’t have nearly as much energy as when he was 21. Now 63, the vocalist and guitarist for the early-’80s post-punk band Theatre of Hate is touring the U.S. with his English band of hard rockers behind their latest album, Kinshi.
“It’s absolutely a great album with outstanding songs on it,” Brandon said from the road. “Really a knockout, just as good as the old stuff.” With new tunes including “Facade,” “Black Irony” and “Pleasured,” Brandon believes Kinshi stands up with the New Wave-era material he once wrote, at a time when the band was as known in the early-’80s scene as fellow British acts Joy Division and Killing Joke.
Theatre of Hate will be performing two shows in the Capital Region, appearing at Capital Ale House Music Hall in Richmond on Nov. 7th and then at Baltimore’s storied Ottobar on Nov. 8th.
It’s been a long, strange road for Brandon and crew, who enjoyed some success on the punk circuit decades ago before disbanding and tentatively reforming once or twice—with an ever-changing lineup—until the band’s current iteration, which has been playing full-time since 2005.
“The original band was only around for about 18 months. It had a lot of problems, management problems,” Brandon says of the band’s rather quick early success. “We had some other problems as well, but none of it really contributed to the life of the band,” adding this included “every cliche” of overnight success (i.e., drugs and alcohol). “One minute you’re [broke], and then the next minute you’re everywhere but you’re [still] absolutely penniless.”
Brandon describes those halcyon days as “absolutely insane” and “surrounded by violence and madness.” It certainly didn’t help the band’s bid for longevity. “You can’t have that kind of bunch of self-destructive people hanging around the band. It won’t do the band any good, and it will die on its feet,” he said.
Theatre of Hate’s early output enjoyed a fierce following, but then the band split up in 1983 and remained so for the better part of the next 20-plus years. Its members got married, had children, and moved on. There were occasional rumblings of maybe getting the band back together—someday. “We try and keep it a tight ship and not stray too much from the path,” Brandon said of how the new lineup functions. “At the end of the day, it’s gotta be fun—and it is. We’re enjoying it and enjoying playing the music. That sounds very naive in today’s industry, but we do.”
Brandon insists that the current iteration of Theatre of Hate isn’t a nostalgia act. The new music is as tough as it used to be, he said, but fans will also hear the old tunes that endeared them to the English punk scene in the first place. “It has a lot of heart, even if it’s entertaining,” Brandon said of the newer material. “That’s probably why we decided to do it again.”
When asked if the punk scene is a younger person’s game, Brandon hedges, responding only that’s “possibly right. But I would also say, as an ‘adult,’ if you play music you feel is relevant, and you still feel it’s relevant, play it.”
At the same time, he acknowledges that he has to do things a bit differently. Brandon was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, and in general says he has to look after himself better than he once did. “When you’re much younger, you have unlimited energy, [but] now you have to conserve it. You can’t just burn it out in a week,” he said. “You gotta take care of yourself more.”
By the same token, Brandon says that he would advise young, up-and-coming musicians to play the 21st century game—meaning looking after their social media presence and keeping a closer eye on the rights to their own material.
“I would advise them to talk a brace of lawyers that actually work for them as opposed to the various companies,” he said, adding, “I’d [also] tell them enjoy it. Enjoy your time on the planet.”
At the same time, Brandon says he keeps his ears to the ground, always listening for the next big thing in the punk world. “Nirvana was probably the last [act] who took the world by storm,” he said. “But you always hope that someone will come along and blow everyone’s minds”, he added.
Theatre of Hate’s current outing is a five-week affair, but considering its brevity, Brandon still calls it a “full-on tour,” and describes the schedule the band is keeping on this current odyssey as rather demanding. “I do a bit of exercise, get the heart rate going [and] vocal warmups,” he said of his pre-show routine. “A bit of humming is always recommended.”
Brandon says that the reception to the new album Kinshi has been positive, both from Theatre of Hate’s old-guard fans and from the critics. He maintains that he and his current bandmates are incredibly happy that their music has continued to reach fans both grandfathered in as well as the newer generations.
“I didn’t know if people would go for [the new material] after all this time, but they have, and we’re incredibly grateful for that,” he said.
Regardless if they make new fans or not, Brandon and Theatre of Hate will soldier on as long as they can. “I’ve got a titanium valve in my chest,” Brandon chuckled, adding the artificial heart valve is “guaranteed to last 120 years.”
A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.
A songwriter by the age of 15, Karla Bonhoff has been entertaining audiences for decades. Native to Southern California, she came up in the L.A. circuit of the hippie era, where artists such as Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and so many others were continuously floating in and out of one another’s orbits. Bonoff and singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor will jointly perform at the Birchmere in Alexandria Dec. 11. Together, they will tackle new and established variations on Christmas favorites, as well as toss in their original tunes.
Alchemical Records is a Washington, D.C. based music publication. We cover the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Richmond, VA metro area music scenes, including band interviews, articles about your favorite musicians, new music and concert dates.