In dark times, nothing lifts the spirits like the arrival of Massive Wagons on your Zoom call. Here’s guitarist Adam Thistlethwaite, the Lancaster band’s closest thing to a grown-up, his backdrop a tidy assemblage of Marshall stacks, flight cases and framed Ross Halfin prints. There’s a hint of a young Roger Waters in his handsome, slightly horse-like features, but thankfully not the Floyd man’s totalitarian streak.
“We’d never let anyone get above their station,” he reasons. “Because you’d just have the piss taken out of you so mercilessly.”
And here’s singer Baz Mills, looking like Joe Pesci’s Home Alone burglar in a black knit hat, silver wisps creeping through his beard now he’s into his forties, butstill dafter than a direct hit with a monkey bomb. “I’m just being an idiot,” he groans, struggling to stop the webcam pointing up his nostrils.
Thistlethwaite is speaking from the Lancaster rehearsal space where Massive Wagons work, rest, scheme and drink. Mills appears to be at home, lolling back in his chair to show off the same T-shirt he wore at this year’s Download. ‘Eat Pies And Talk About Men’s Mental Health’, orders the unlikely message on his chest.
“I looked like an absolute wanker at Download, didn’tI?”
Well, I wouldn’t say that, exactly.
“Oh, I would. I was wearing this T-shirt with a black-and-white check jacket, matching shorts and socks. But if you’re going to play Download, you want people to remember you for something, don’t you? So it might as well be for looking like a complete tosspot.”
If Mills hasn’t changed his T-shirt since Download – and we’re not saying he hasn’t, necessarily – then it’s understandable. Occupying an ever-higher orbit in the rock firmament, and still largely handling their own affairs, Massive Wagons don’t get much downtime for such earthly concerns as laundry these days.
New album Triggered! won’t help that workload. But in truth, their wheels have barely stopped spinning since 2020’s House Of Noise. Last time we interviewed the Wagons, they were hawking that fifth album and hoping to top the performance of 2018’s Full Nelson (an unlikely UK Top 20, in a chart riddled with Ed Sheeran, George Ezra and The Greatest Showman). Needless to say, as the best-humoured British rock band since The Darkness, the marketing campaign for House Of Noise ended up being gleeful lunacy.
“We bought an old treadmill for 50 quid and did a fucking ridiculous 90s-themed telethon livestream for charity,” reflects Mills.
Then things got serious.
“People don’t realise the rollercoaster,” he says of House Of Noise’s chart tussle. “You get your midweek position, then it’s up and down. You’re at Number 7. You’re at Number 12. But the big bands rest on their laurels. Like, Jarvis Cocker was in there with us. And two members of Westlife – some shite, I dunno. It’s like, ‘Argh! We need to do more videos!’ In the end, that Number 9 for House Of Noise made people sit up and go, ‘Massive Wagons? Who are these lads?’”
Who, indeed, have Massive Wagons become since that chart breakthrough? Well, certainly men with impressive alcohol tolerances.
“There have been that many piss-ups,” says Mills, a little dreamily, “I can’t remember half of them.”
But definitely not millionaires, shrugs Thistlethwaite.
“As amazing as that result was, you don’t take a lot home. It’s not like, ‘Here’s a big gold watch.’”
“A Ferrari and a swimming pool?” echoes Mills, shaking his head. “Nah. I’ve got a puddle full of dog shit out the back of my house. But we’re just all happy not to be getting up at five in the morning, laying tarmac.”
Doors are opening, though. Over summer, the Wagons trundled out on their biggest European festival run to date, hitting France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium.
“Graspop was incredible,” beams Thistlethwaite. Then he shudders: “But I’ve never experienced heat like that onstage.”
“The heat has been brutal this summer,” picks up Mills. “I think it was 36 degrees at Graspop. Our bassist said he came close to vomiting onstage.”
Returning to the UK, the band instead topped up their studio tans at Andy Sneap’s Backstage facility in rural Derbyshire, recalling House Of Noise producers Chris Clancy and Colin Richardson to repeat the commercial trick.
But not the musical one, stresses Thistlethwaite. “We’ve never had an agenda, but maybe on some level we were writing for the radio before. You know, keep the single in mind, get to the chorus in forty seconds. But with Triggered!, we let the songs speak for themselves. I was listening to a lot of Ghost. You can hear that in Sawdust, it’s more theatrical and punkier. I’ve always loved Green Day, Offspring, Rise Against, that kind of anger. And we didn’t worry about things like swearing if it’s part of the emotional content."
Ah yes, the swearing. If you’ve heard anything from Triggered!, it’s likely lead-off single Fuck The Haters, with Mills’s battlecry calling out all those who would tear down your freak flag.
“The record label picked that one to deliberately poke the hornets’ nest,” remembers Thistlethwaite.
“Fuck The Haters was meant to be a festival song, middle fingers in the air,” adds Mills. “The song relates to the stuff I see online. For instance, there’s a post that goes around of a guy with tattoos on his face, big ear-stretchers, things in his lips. It always says, ‘Would you give this guy a job?’ And all the comments are just sickening, these torrents of abuse: ‘What the fuck does he look like?’ I had that picture in my head. I just thought, ‘Fuck ’em.’”
The cover art of Triggered! nods to that image – a heavily tattooed mosher with lavender eyeshadow – while the title track is a close cousin to Fuck The Haters, Mills reeling off the myriad intolerances of the keyboard generation over a faintly Terrorvision-ish bounce. “The world seems to revolve around social media and there are no consequences,” reasons the singer.
“Not half an hour ago,” he continues, “I was reading a statement from Crossfaith: they’ve just cancelled their tour, they can’t afford to come over. And the comments had no sympathy, no remorse, no understanding, just firing a barrage of shit at this band. And it’s like, where does this attitude come from? It’s awful. That’s the centre of the universe for this album, really.”
No wacky treadmill campaign this time around. Instead, Mills and Thistlethwaite have released a series of spoken-word videos giving advice to bullying victims (and donated a slice of profits to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation). This stuff is personal to you, not just virtue-signalling, isn’t it?
Mills nods. “Yeah. There was a core of bullies that made my life a misery as a kid. Unfortunately for me, they all lived in my town and I went through primary school, secondary school and a two-year college course with them. Kids are awful, aren’t they? They’re terrible. They’re brutal. I was the smallest in the class, so I was an easy target.”
The band all still live around Lancaster. Was there not a temptation – when House Of Noise went Top 10, say, or after you detonated Download – to knock on a few doors and serve up a few dishes of stone-cold revenge?
“Nah, they’re all big lads,” says Mills. “If [the band’s success] pisses them off then they’re stuck in their sad little world, aren’t they? That’s enough for me. I don’t have to go back there. I’m happy with my life. I’ve got nothing more to do with those people. It’s all good. I can walk down the middle of Lancaster now without getting my head kicked in.”
To be clear, Triggered! isn’t just about bullying, and the Wagons occasionally stray from their default setting of sugarbomb festival bangers. One standout is Please Stay Calm, with a wistful chime unlike anything in the catalogue (“We’ve not touched on that Hysteria-tinged sound, almost like The Police,” says Thistlethwaite) and Mills hilariously undercutting expectations of his new rock star status.
“You don’t want people to look behind the curtain and realise that most nights you’re sat at home thinking, ‘My library books are overdue.’ The closest I get to trouble with the police is giving them the Vs under the dashboard. So I suppose Please Stay Calm is a stab at myself for being a pale comparison of Ozzy Osbourne.”
If Massive Wagons remain light, charming interviewees, then as Mills and Thistlethwaite run through the tracklisting, you can’t help notice anger is a recurring theme.
“The first song we wrote was Gone Are The Days,” says the singer of the choppy, string-augmented standout. “I’d watched this live Paul Weller stuff, him trying to kill that guitar. He was so angry when he played, and in his suit, it looks ridiculous, like an angry businessman. That song, it’s mod, it’s punk. I think that’s the most British song on the album.”
As for Germ, its cascading arpeggios conceal Mills’s biting rebuke to Boris and co. “After I left the Air Force, I worked as a truck driver for sixteen years. Last year, when there was a driver shortage, I had a letter from the government asking me to go back to driving wagons. I just thought to myself, ‘Well, you’ve never done anything to help me.’ I didn’t qualify for any money through lockdown because I’d only been self-employed for a year."
Mills’s ire builds all the way to closers Sawdust and No Friend Of Mine. “Sawdust is about another musician who had it in for us. Somebody we held in high regard, but they came at us with a stick. No Friend Of Mine is about friends you might go for a drink with… not your best friends, more friends of friends. And then, over lockdown, they’re all posting online and this hatred starts spewing out of them, all these ‘Don’t let people in this country’ posts. And it’s like, ‘I used to go and watch bands with you…’”
Armed with these songs, it’s tempting to herald Triggered! as the next leap forward in Massive Wagons’ unbroken trajectory. But can a mid-table band really keep rising when the cost-of-living crisis is threatening the death blow to a scene stillteetering post-Covid?
“I can already see it happening,” nods Mills. “Anthrax have cancelled their European tour. I can see clubs and pubs closing. I don’t know what the future holds for Massive Wagons. If we have a massive hit, wonderful. But as long as I don’t have to drive a bus, I’m fine.”
They’ve faced off against bullying, weathered a global pandemic and now fancy their chances against a recession. Is there anything that could bring this band down?
Mills thinks for a moment. “Roy’s farts. Our drummer. They’re awful. They could bring more than the band down…"
Triggered! is out now on Earache Records.