Haggard old music journalists love a young, crazed band that simultaneously make them feel ready for the grave and also put lead in their pencil. At a certain point, that was Symposium:
“We’re thinking about setting fire to one of our roadies”, muses the voice on the other end of the phone, “and have him run across the stage”.
You’d think that the vicissitudes of pop had fatally turned the mind of Ross Cummins, leader singer with hyperactive racket-mongers, Symposium. The next minute, the band’s songsmith/bassist Wojtek is dreaming aloud about doing a rock opera – Quo Vadis, Symposium?
It’s clear Ross is tired of his role as pop’s Tasmanian Devil, although he is still inspired by the choreographed catastrophes of Metallica’s last tour. Symposium may have distilled their all-conquering live reputation from copious amounts of sweat generated in overloaded venues, but they’re not coy about the prospect of filling out wide open spaces.
“I can’t wait!” gushes Wojtek. “We love being bombastic, harking back to the Seventies glam era or bands like Motorhead. Although they were really gritty, they could play massive places. You just have to shift into a different gear, but essentially you’re still the same band”. Ross sounds equally up for the crack.
“The good thing about a big stage is that you’ve got to reach people right at the back, on the balconies. Also everything seems a little bit easier, you haven’t got to worry about someone getting up and knocking the mic into Wojtek’s face or tripping over people”, he says with touching concern, before adding, “though I love it when people do that”.
Ouch. During 1997, the music press fell in love with Symposium’s no-holds-barred gigs, mythologising the brain-battering volume, the wrecked ceilings and the injuries garnered en route by their impetuous singer. But Ross can see that his wild man days are numbered.
“What I’ve always said is, don’t expect to see Ross the monkey boy breaking things, because it doesn’t happen every night”. Even so, Symposium always seem determined to better their audience’s frenzied reaction and inevitably there’s a price to pay.
“It’s really physical, what we do on stage”, agrees Wojtek. “It’s like an endurance test as well, because the sets are getting longer and longer”. Perhaps mindful of their physical health, the new album On The Outside, takes a symbolic step away from the speedy punk pop thrashes of One Day At A Time. Offsetting grandiose pillars or rock like The End with delicate meditations of the title track. It’s not what you’d expect from a band raised on Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against The Machine.
“Me and Ross like a lot of female singer songwriters,” explains Wojtek. “Like Julianna Hatfield and especially Tori Amos who we really love, but no one else in the band can understand”. However they overcame their initial reluctance to push the envelope and Wojtek presses home the point about the misleading art of pigeon-holing.
“I think people got the wrong idea when [One Day At A Time] came out, they thought that was all we were about – ska and fizzy pop. But we’re also about a harder edge and a slower, more rock thing”.
“The whole album is quite varied” says Ross. “On the last tour we played Blue and we weren’t sure how it would go down because the crowd are used to jumping about and going mental, but it gave people time to rest and take it all in”.
Nevertheless, other people’s expectations are hard currency in the music business. The band’s initial taste of the music press has been of a distinctly sweet and sour variety.
“It’s just a fickle thing”, sighs Wojtek. “We were taken aback when we got a lot of favourable press, we though everyone was on our side. But later you realise it’s all crap. Our fans know we’re not who the media say we are and they laugh along at it with us”.
Like several other Symposium members, Wojtek trained in violin and piano, and the mischievous suggestion of writing a rock opera is made only partly in jest.
“I’m up for the whole thing, operas, symphonies, everything. I want to write one of each”, he laughs. “Violin concertos, a requiem mass…”. Steady on, lad. There’s even a dark plot to stage a fringe play in London, “Just to throw a spanner in the works and make everyone think, “What’s going on?” Which is the whole point, isn’t it?