Star Scene: Ian Svenonius – CHAIN & THE GANG

Ian Svenonius’s scene is deejaying. The Chain & the Gang singer plays the “oldies”. Svenonius has always considered music to be like “the air you breathe.”

Svenonius was influenced by different styles though he philosophises over this question before answering it. He states: “It’s always hard to tell. You come out of this context and you wonder to what extent you’re trying to please people or infuriate them. It’s hard to know and that’s why history is so fun because you can really make up any reality; your own history or history of the world. You can say WWI was because of this, and you know pretty much anything is going to pass muster because it’s so open to interpretation; it’s so malleable. So when you talk about your influences I’m always suspect of people talking about childhood memories or influences because it’s very loaded. And I don’t blame them. I have a problem with these documentaries with centenarians and everybody is talking about their history. And it’s just based on the time that they’re living in. They can’t imagine what their actual motivations were. Well maybe they can imagine them but I just feel like they often re-imagine their motivations or their influences.” Philosophy over, Svenonius continues: “But I will still answer your question. Anyway, I was influenced by the Beatles and they were pushing that oldies rock and roll on the radio and you’re all into the stuff that you missed out on. So, it’s rock n roll from an earlier era. It’s always fascinating and then punk, punk rock, hardcore, DC hardcore and all that and then punk got more sophisticated. It just depends, when you’re young you’re being influenced by different things every day.”

“So that’s what I mean,” Svenonius continues, “people cherry pick their experiences so that they’re less humiliating. But my influence was living through a recession and a super repressive and propagandist world; the Cold War and that kind of stuff. So I’ve never recovered from that. I feel like maybe the Cold War and that kind of highly repressive conservatism had a big influence on me.  I mean Reagan, Bush, the war mentality, militarism, AIDS; I’m talking about childhood; the influence of everyone who lived through that incredible conservatism and weird Orwellian war mentality. As soon as Donald Trump was elected, I was like: this is just like Reagan; this kind of numbskull, everything is simplistic, the economy is tenuous and everybody is on the edge of starvation. Under Clinton, everybody had all this credit because some laws got changed, some legislation changed and then everybody had a new car; young people I know they grew up in an era when everybody had all this credit, austerity was out, everybody pretended to be rich for the last you know 20-30 years. Now I feel like that hysteria in meeting this new situation is really on this person, as much as it is a repressed knowledge that reality was being suppressed.”

Svenonius thinks outside the box and then crams it so full that it explodes, leaving no walls and no protection against ignorance. With politics and its place in music, Svenonius states: “certainly, if you do it right, it’s really just about how you do it. It’s like anything you say, it’s how you’re going to say it. Politics is interesting in music. Rock and roll starts almost like comic books, it’s for little kids and it’s vulgar and nobody treated it like it had any worth, except for teenagers. [pullquote]Rock and roll starts almost like comic books, it’s for little kids and it’s vulgar and nobody treated it like it had any worth, except for teenagers. [/pullquote] It was essentially like Sunday morning cartoons or comics, just garbage, candy bars. It was another aspect of teenage or preteen life and it was perverse and thrilling. Then simultaneously there was this folk revival movement that was going on which was under McCarthy and the ‘Red Scare’, you weren’t allowed to have a left opinion. So folk music became a kind of a repository for people with leftist ideas and civil rights and all that stuff; so folk became a crypto communist or leftist movement. And it was very popular like that. It was enormously popular. And then when the two types merged most famously like with Bob Dylan going electric, then the folk audience and all from that scene went into rock.”

Svenonius continues: “So when we grew up in rock and roll there was always the need to make a statement or whatever and all that stuff comes out of folk and it’s really quite interesting. It’s often a very rough fit because on the one hand you have folk values which were not about originality, it was more about poor people songs as anthems for social change and a lot of the people were more interested in the activism than in the music. And then with rock and roll, it’s a funny thing. Sometimes when you have politics with what used to be almost pornographic music and by porn, pornographic, I just mean something that was kind of sub, kind of lowbrow, considered very low brow and  it was the mafia aspect. The Mafia ownership of what the record labels said were natural processes, and the juke boxes. So it’s interesting about politics and music because I think that that’s what keeps music or rock n roll such a fascinating paradox. That’s why we keep coming back to it because it’s endlessly interesting to me when you.

Svenonius’ humour is left of centre, with a sardonic hint of sarcasm; a type of deprecating humour Australians relate to and often claim as their own, to be understood only by each other, and by Brits and maybe even by a few Canadians. But not Americans, especially not Americans from seemingly conservative Washington DC. Fortunately, Svenonius’ tongue in cheek attitude, amongst his own philosophy, shine through the lyrics, the music, and his personality. Chain and the Gang do not need advertising or press, they have advocates amongst the highest of music elite, including Henry Rollins and Kid Congo. On the eve of their first trip to Australia, Svenonius, a sense of mockery obvious in his dry tone, explains the reason it took the band so long: “Nobody asked. Nobody asked us to come. We were waiting by the phone. We were just looking at it longingly.” Svenonius continues: “We don’t really have a machine; we’re more like a sewing circle than the modern rock n roll groups who are more corporatised, they have different strategies, and they have people working for them, and street teams, and they’re more like ad agencies. We’re more like the old, we’re more like a doo wop group round the corner, oblivious to the world around us.”

Chain & The Gang may not have a machine, but they are noted. They “invented” the ‘Crime Rock’ genre. Svenonius clarifies: “We’re stuck with these old terms – punk rock, indie rock – well, these terms don’t really represent. You have these terms and you’re just shoved into one of them; it’s kind of like chopping you off at the knees and it’s something that is holding you back. Being termed a ‘political band’ is one of the worst things you can hear as a band because you feel like you were just being put at the children’s table at a party.  So labels, we were just having a fun with labels. Also ‘Crime Rock’ is a reference to Chain and the Gang, chain gang, so we’re like chained together, with a common destiny. We have no freedom but we’re embracing our lack of freedom because we are a ‘Down with Liberty’ group, we’re the only rock n roll group that says: ‘Down with Liberty’.”  Once again, Svenonius’ voice has a hint of irony and jest. He continues: “But at the same time we’re incredibly predictable because we’re against originality, we’re against expression, we hate the idea of freedom of expression and you know we will do. You can almost predict every word that comes out of my mouth, it’s completely predictable, but we find that comforting and we hope our audiences do.”

Predictable – or not – Australian audiences can expect “thrills” Svenonius states. “Lots of thrills, every second, and ferocity and charm and incandescence and perversity.  We’re down with liberty; the whole concept comes from when Napoleon was invading Europe under the banner of freedom or liberty, equality, fraternity. The Spanish partisans who are fighting him were saying ‘down with liberty’.  We’re up with chains, down with liberty, or libertarians. Yeah. We hate libertarians, we hate their small government individualism.” Predictability and thrills may include tracks from their latest album, Why Devitalize?, including the song ‘Got To Have It Every Day’ which is about “apples”. Svenonius says: “Yeah absolutely. That’s about apples – eat an apple every day, got to have an apple every day. Though apples are pretty bound with symbolism. Although apparently in the original story of Adam and Eve, it’s a fig; it’s not an apple at all.”

Why Devitalize? is out now.

Catch Chain & The Gang on their first Australian tour.

“Ian Svenonius is the greatest rock’n’roll frontman in the world”Anthony Carew (SMH / The Age)

“ … Chain & the Gang is one of the coolest live bands anywhere” – Henry Rollins

 Just six weeks away from the debut Australian tour of Chain & The Gang – the latest creative vehicle for Washington DC activist Mr. Ian Svenonius, ex-The Make Up / Nation Of Ulysses and a man described by fellow Washington native Henry Rollins as “a genius” – and Feel Presents are pleased to announce two brand new shows. 

Friday 10th March: Melbourne, The Curtin Bandroom + Primo & Parsnip 

Tuesday 14th March: Brisbane, The Foundry (double bill with I Heart Hiroshima)

Svenonius, the sonic-architect behind socio-political minded groups The Make Up, Nation Of Ulysses, Weird War (and others) and one of the worlds GREAT front men formed Chain and The Gang in 2009. Since that time Chain … have released four (4) must have albums including 2014’s Minimum Rock ’n’ Roll, a 31 minute slab of garage-funk with a punk heart and a social awareness that has aspirations beyond the genre – any genre!

“The first time I saw Ian Svenonius play live was when he jumped onstage with Fugazi and started playing an organ that happened to be onstage. He was amazing. Not only is the man a brilliant musician, having put out records through his many bands, the Nation Of Ulysses, the Make Up, Cupid Car Club, Felt Letters, XYZ, to name a few, his newest incarnation Chain & the Gang is one of the coolest live bands anywhere. The man has more charisma than most.”Henry Rollins

Alongside vocalist and chief provocateur Svenonius, are bassist, synthesist and composer Anna Nasty, guitarist Francy Graham and drummer Fiona Campbell, while Svenonius himself, is also a filmmaker, a dancer, a youtube host and a writer with his author credit appearing on the books “The Psychic Soviet” and “Supernatural Strategies”. Individually these members are scintillating but together they’re something greater than the parts. An irresistible combo that provides the best hope for the future and the only answer to the embarrassing slime pit called “culture” nowadays.  

All supports are now also confirmed with Weird War, Terry, Primo, Parsnip, Angie, I Heart Hiroshima and Cold Sweat DJ’s taking out the honours.  

Don’t you dare miss Chain & The Gang live this March. 

FEEL PRESENTS… CHAIN AND THE GANG ‘Minimum Rock N’ Roll’ Tour 2017  

Friday 10th March 2017

John Curtin Hotel, Melbourne VIC
+ special guests Primo & Parsnip 

Tickets $35.00 from and  

Saturday 11th March 2017

The Tote, Melbourne VIC
+ special guests Weird War & Terry 

Tickets $35.00 from and

Sunday 12th March 2017  

Golden Plains, Meredith VIC
Tickets via ballot from  

Tuesday 14th March 2016  

The Foundry, Brisbane, QLD 

Double Bill with I Heart Hiroshima 

Tickets $35.00 + bf from 

Wednesday 15th March 2016

Newtown Social Club, Sydney NSW  

+ special guests Angie & Cold Sweat DJs 

Tickets $35.00 + bf from

Tickets for all shows on-sale now!

About Mary Boukouvalas 1246 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos,,,, She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.

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