[sic] Magazine

Interview – Jeff Runnings from For Against.

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Nebraska’s For Against have given me some of my favourite music. As the UK post-punk scene dwindled and died during the mid 80’s, up popped For Against to fill a personal void. For Against picked up the baton for sure but it was more than that. Whilst they certainly nailed down that sparse, doom-laden sound (think Factory, think Comsat Angels , think The Sound ) they also embellished their work with a dreamy, hazy atmosphere not to mention some startling lyrics. This summer, the Captured Tracks label will re issue the bands early work in the form of a vinyl box set. It is a collection well worth picking up for fans but also for newcomers, particularly audiophiles.

Here’s the labels press statement:

Captured Tracks will be reissuing the first three full lengths from seminal Lincoln, Nebraska post-punk trio, For Against. Originally released by Independent Project between 1984-1990, these releases will see their first vinyl appearance in over 20 years in a deluxe edition limited boxed set. Remastered by Words on Music (by Marc Ostermeier of Should), the set will feature a bonus booklet and ephemera from the bands early career. For Against was an anomaly within the Midwestern post-punk climate, offering melodic and dreamy hook-laden songs in stark contrast to the post-hardcore sounds of the time.

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The box set will focus on the early period and original band line-up. Guitarist Harry Dingman would leave the band after their acclaimed album December (included in the box set) and lead vocalist/guitarist Jeffrey Runnings would continue the band, further developing the dreampop sound and adding elements of shoegaze. Dingman would return in 2005 and the two ‘comeback’ albums were both warmly received by [sic] Magazine and other critics. At the time of 2008’s Shade Side Sunny Side I managed to interview Harry Dingman but not lead man Jeff Runnings who was sidelined with health issues at the time. I thought the recent box set news was worth celebrating and that it was well past time I put that interview omission to bed so I caught up with Jeffrey over a cup of transatlantic tea.
Enjoy:

The trilogy of Echelons, December and In The Marshes is being released as a vinyl box set by the label Captured Tracks. Do you have fond memories of those recordings?

Jeff: I don’t have fond memories of recording the first two albums, mostly because with the first album the studio techs didn’t know what we were going for, so it was rough —as for the second album, we weren’t getting along well and that hampered the sessions, plus we were doing the record on an eight track which I thought was going a step down from the ‘professional’ 16 track studio we used for ‘Echelons’…with In the Marshes, that was the most fun because it was the most relaxed, just us with a four track recorder in my bedroom.

Are you happy with the box set?

Jeff: Am I happy with the boxset? When it comes out I’ll let you know!

Is vinyl still important to you?

Jeff: Vinyl is still king, and I still buy a lot of it, too much probably.

Didn’t you work in a record store back in the day?

Jeff: I worked in a couple of record stores here in Lincoln, in the early 90’s and again from 2000-2005…

How important was that as a means of discovering new music – for residents and for yourself personally?

Jeff: It was really important, since we didn’t have a lot of other resources for discovering new bands, etc etc

You also contributed to fanzines such as Capitol Punishment. How much fun was that?

Jeff: Capitol Punishment was a blast, it was so fun writing reviews, and getting interview letters back from bands was really great, we got one from a new band called Bauhaus who were playing a few U.S. dates with Tuxedomoon…very early in Bauhaus’ career, around the time of their first album.

Which came first Jeff the fan or Jeff the musician?

Jeff: Jeff the fan came early, buying Beatles albums at age 6 or so, then I started (classical) piano lessons from age 7 until about 13, but then new bands like Television and Blondie started occupying my interest…I still play piano (very well btw) but by age 13-14 I started to teach myself how to play guitar—not easy since I’m left-handed but I didn’t know to switch the strings around, so I taught myself how to play ‘backwards’. Still play that way today, all my bass and guitar playing is backwards.

Jeff

December is often held up as the For Against masterpiece. Do you see it that way yourself? How do you look back upon that album Jeff?

Jeff: December, looking back, was a HUGE leap in songwriting (and my lyricism), and Harry and Greg both give stellar performances, I’m very proud of that album, especially since we did it on an eight track in an underground bomb shelter on the edge of town instead of a ‘proper’ studio. It’s bittersweet though, because I thought we would get a deal with a major label and instead we broke up.

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A lot of writers and press articles from that time mention Factory as a reference point. Do you agree that? Were you consciously going for a Factory sound?

Jeff: The ‘Factory sound’……it was a huge influence for me, esp Joy Division and Section 25’s “Always Now” album, the atmospheres created are so…otherworldly, I really wanted to get that vibe on Echelons, which was very difficult, but we managed some great moments, on Autocrat especially. And Broke My Back.

Harry left the band after December and I’m not sure how much of that has ever been discussed in the written press. What happened? Was it your typical band/personalities/directions thing?

Jeff: Harry actually left the band before December was released and took Greg with him—I was furious but most of it was my fault; I considered myself the leader of the band and wanted things done my way–I wasn’t very democratic.

Subsequent albums seemed to explore a wider musical sphere, taking in dreampop and college rock. Was that your decision Jeff or just the product of a differing line-up?
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Jeff: The wider musical sphere came from a different line-up but also from me playing all guitar (no bass) on the third album; I was thoroughly enthralled with UK indie and the Creation groups…but we weren’t copying; “Aperture” was written in 1989-1990, the same time as these other groups were getting started making records. Mave and I worked together so well doing the two guitar interplay, it just happened to happen around the same time as like-minded bands like Pale Saints. Again, we thought we’d get some major label attention and had a powerful manager in NYC shopping us and flying us into NYC to play showcases…his name is Jim McGarry and now owns and runs the Rainbow Quartz label, home of some of the world’s best powerpop bands.

I can really see the Pale Saints connection actually. Vocally too, you and Masters. Happily, for For Against fans, Harry returned around 2005 and we got to hear two more albums, with the two of you together, Shade Side Sunny Side and Never Been. Both are absolutely brilliant in my humble opinion. How would you contrast those two with your earlier work?

Jeff: Well Shade Side was another difficult record to make, band members weren’t getting along, I was drinking at every session, and I still think it’s one of the ‘lesser’ efforts from For Against, but when it’s good (‘Why Are You So Angry’,) it’s really good. Never Been has a couple songs I love (eg ‘Different Departures’) but again, I don’t see it as being nearly as good as earlier stuff like Mason’s or Aperture. I’m thrilled people hold those two albums in such high regard but I find them very uneven. No one’s fault, it’s just how it is. I never listen to those. The only album I go to when I want to listen to For Against is “Aperture”. I simply don’t like a lot of what I’ve produced because most of it (to me at least) is substandard, lazy, uninspired.

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I know that you had some health issues around the time of Shade Side…. Jeffrey; how are you now? Well, we hope.

Jeff: Health issues…….lots, too much heavy drugs, chronic late stage alcoholism, depression, my neuroses have made for some good songwriting but I’ve pretty much been a complete fucking wreck my whole life—it’s a big reason why people say I’m an asshole…being a mess all the time will do that to you…a lot of its genetic, not an excuse, just a fact. I’m rather amazed I weathered all of it, but I struggle like everyone else does…people with severe neuroses have an uphill battle because you never know what tomorrow will be like—and worse, sometimes you simply don’t care. But I’m still here, and stopping drinking was a big turning point. You can’t do or be much of anything when you’re drinking a litre of vodka every day. It did however make for quite a bit of good songwriting.

Did the subsequent lifestyle changes affect your songwriting in any way?

Jeff: Has sobriety affected my songwriting? Yes, I don’t write nearly as much because I think 99% of it is crap. So while I do home recordings on a eight track cassette deck that sounds pretty fucking good, I haven’t pursued a solo album or anything…I’m sure it would bomb, but you never know. No, it would bomb, endless comparisons to For Against— “this isn’t NEARLY as good…..” I can see it now!

Knowing you a bit, I’m aware that you’re as much of a music nut as ever. You’re always championing other acts. Has management or a record label ever appealed?

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Jeff: Yes I’m afraid I’m still a nut when it comes to being a music fan, but the industry has never been a place I’d want to go, I’d rather stay a fan than be paid to market bands as commodities. The industry has completely changed, it’s about getting your songs in a TV show or a commercial, not radio play…the only way for bands to make a living is by making great records then tour tour tour tour and tour some more.

Who do I have to kill to get you to write for [sic] Magazine?

Jeff: you want me to write for [sic]? Lovely! What shall I write?

You have an open invitation Sir. So what are you listening to these days?

Jeff: Heavy rotation these days: Toy, Wax Idols, Vatican Shadow, the Half String retrospective, September Girls, Joy Formidable, Still Corners, everything on Slumberland Records, Ringo Deathstarr, Diiv, Dum Dum Girls, Deerhunter, Indians, and (still) lots of Wire.

What next for For Against?

Jeff: what next for For Against? Well, the box set on Captured Tracks should be out this year I hope. There’s talk of another box with another label, otherwise I think we’re done. Nothing against Harry because he’s a sweetheart, I just think we’ve run our course so to speak.

~[sic] Magazine thanks Jeffrey and For Against. The box set is currently delayed. Please visit Captured tracks website or follow For Against on their facebook page for further detail as they become known. Photographs by kind permission are not for general use and may be subject to copyright.~

For Against Facebook page

Interview with Harry Dingman III

Review: Shade Side Sunny Side

Review: Never Been

Review: Black Soap EP

The Complete Capitol Punishment book

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