It’s 1983 and spiky new Manchester death-rockers Inca Babies are unleashing their first single on an unsuspecting public via their own Black Lagoon Records.
Nearly 6,000 miles away in Sao Paulo, a teenage musician is hitting the underground clubs, looking for the type of music you just don’t hear on mainstream radio.
Fast forward 40 years and with the world in the grip of the COVID pandemic, an email drops into the inbox of Incas’ mainman Harry Stafford.
The sender is multi-instrumentalist and Inca fan Marco Butcher, the aforementioned Brazilian-born rocker – now relocated to North Carolina.
He proposes a file-sharing musical collaboration and, just like that, a new transatlantic songwriting partnership is born.
Matt Catchpole meets the pair to mark the release of their second album We Are The Perilous Men.
In a wide-ranging chat they talk movies, music, Manchester and the small matter of the heart attack which put paid to their tour plans – at least temporarily.
They’ve yet to be in the same room together, but within minutes of meeting them it’s clear Harry Stafford and Marco Butcher are united by a shared vision.
Lovers of the kind of scuzzy, swamp rock purveyed by the likes of Nick Cave‘s The Birthday Party, The Gun Club and The Cramps – they’ve quickly carved out their own peculiar niche.
“The Gun Club and The Birthday Party, they are just like delinquents. They’re dangerous. And this is what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be,” says Marco. “It has nothing to do with your playing ability, or how you dress. It’s that thing, that energy, that fits the mythology of what rock ‘n’ roll really means to young kids. It’s rebellion, it’s danger! It’s ‘Don’t let your daughter go out with them!”. And that for me. That’s very good!”
Setting out their store on debut album Bone Architecture, the duo create a world populated by the glamorous, the decadent and the dangerous. Degenerates’ degenerates if you will.
Cinematic influences abound, from film noir thrillers to Hammer Horror, all laced with lashings of atmosphere and dark humour.
We Are The Perilous Men (WATPM) picks up from where its predecessor left off, but if anything is even more wildly experimental.
Genres: rockabilly, jazz, post-punk and dirty blues are mixed, mashed, ripped up and re-invented.
“For me, it’s more of a rock album to a certain extent,” Harry says of WATPM. “We’ve actually drawn further into a field of sort of bluesy, jazzy sort of sounds.
“Marco did more of the instrumentation. So there’s that lovely kind of a warm glow he brings to the backing tracks. So, when I put my vocals and the occasional instruments on it. I’ve got a real sort of foundation to work with.”
“The big big difference is first of all, we had experience of making the first one, so we knew each other better,” Marco chips in. “We knew where we could go with the music, which I guess gave me more room to be a little bit more experimental.”
“Because we did the songs over a period of time, I think we had a kind of ‘house style’ if you like,” Harry continues. “I was just reading a review which said it all feels as though it was done in the same session, which I actually quite liked, because I think some of my favourite albums were done in the same session and they have this real sense of time and place.”
When I mention that many of the songs feel like soundtracks to movies that don’t yet exist, Marco nods animatedly.
“Nailed it!” he exclaims. “I think that’s our entire point. I can’t express enough how important it is to me to get some some sense of an image or a scene or a scenario out of the music.
“I’m glad you noticed that because when I’m thinking about music, if a song doesn’t create any type of imaginary film or video in your head. There’s probably something wrong with that song.
“The idea is always trying to create some sort of different world, so we can escape from this one for at least 35 minutes.”
A lecturer at Manchester Film School, Harry says thinking visually helps him to create a sense of story in his songwriting.
“We do love the sense of being able to lay a soundscape that conjures up a time and a place or a landscape. I think that’s very important. Certainly looking at the track list, things like The King Of All Moves, which is quite a long track, takes you on a journey. It’s relentless kind of ‘come this way’ – that sense of luring you in.”
The duo say they don’t consciously plan to draw from multiple genres, but are keen to avoid putting up barriers to new ideas.
“I’ve been in bands before whereby people will sort of jam stuff and someone would play something and everyone would sort of frown and go: ‘Well, that’s not our kind of song’, which I always thought was a bit limiting,” explains Harry.
“Marco will come to the table with any number of different things that I can toy with. So it’s great.”
Marco’s view is that it takes time and experience to break free from self imposed strictures.
“I’ve been flirting with different styles for many years now, but I guess it takes road, you know,” he says languidly. “When you’re in your 20s, you’re not allowed to listen to The Beatles if you listen to punk rock, ‘The Beatles suck!’
“It takes time for you to realise that without The Beatles there is no fucking punk rock because they’re like, great. Like many other styles and bands, they are part of the diet.”
Asked to name a favourite track from the new record, Harry plumps for Unreal Thing, while Marco is more equivocal.
“I don’t really have a favourite track. It depends on my mood at the time, I guess,” he says. “I’m just really proud of the record.”
Growing up in Sao Paulo, Marco was turned on to Inca Babies and other more left field bands by DJs in the city’s tiny but energised alternative scene.
“It was a very, very small, but a very intense group of people. Let’s say, I don’t know, maybe a hundred, maybe 200 people. There was no way you would hear these bands on the radio. You had to go to the clubs and check what the DJs are bringing in. It was like a treasure-hunting experience,” he smiles.
“The Inca Babies and Gun Club and The Birthday Party bands, this is very, very obscure for us in ’84-’85. But that was the beauty of it. It was part of the special flavour of the thing. It was OUR thing. It was OUR scene and OUR party. It was really good.”
Being slightly older, Harry was influenced by the first wave of punk bands like The Damned, Wire and UK Subs in the late ’70s.
“Before with prog and everything, you had to be this fairly sort of accomplished musician. And of course I discovered that there was this whole arena of music that I could actually grasp and grapple with a few chords.” he remembers.
“My friends, we were all about 13, 14, 15. We launched ourselves into that first wave of punk. And that was it. We learned Damned songs. We learned Wire songs, Clash songs. And we formed this sort of very makeshift band. We were utterly terrible. But I think that was kind of part of our charm.”
By the early ’80s when Inca Babies formed in Hulme, south Manchester, that first wave had been followed by edgy post-punk and fledging sub-genres like goth were beginning to emerge.
“By ’82, The Birthday Party, The Gun Club, The Cramps had appeared. And so we were sort of shifting that way,” Harry continues. “My main collaborator then was this guy called Bill [Marten (aka William Bonney)], who was totally into things like Elvis, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran AND The Cramps. So that was the rockabilly elements and I was sort of the punk element.
“We were making music and lo and behold, Marco in Sao Paolo in Brazil was listening to it. I mean, how rewarding is that? Extraordinary!” he laughs.
Despite being initially lauded, Harry says the Incas did not fit comfortably into Manchester’s burgeoning music scene.
“Initially we were kind of embraced because we were quite extreme. We made a bit of racket. So we were embraced as this exciting new band.
“But basically Manchester is a Northern Soul city. It’s not a rock ‘n ‘roll city. Absolutely Not. No matter what anyone tells you, Manchester isn’t a rock and roll city,” he says emphatically.
“The Buzzcocks are a Northern Soul rock band. New Order are a disco Northern Soul band. Happy Mondays are a council estate, disco, Northern Soul band, The Stone Roses are a shuffle Northern Soul rock band.
“We stuck out like a sore thumb, because we did not fit any of this Mancunian Northern Soul sensibility and we were slowly shunted to one side.”
One key supporter was the late John Peel, who Harry credits with helping to create a buzz around the band.
“He gave us four sessions and he always played our records and that was basically the foundation of people hearing about us, which meant we could play gigs, which meant the music press would take an interest and want to interview us. So yeah, I mean, we owe him everything.
“But then I imagine many, many really important bands from the ’80s owe so much to him. He was brilliant. We have a few people on [BBC] 6 Music like Mark Riley and Gideon Coe who do a similar thing. But it’s it’s less of a less of a thing now, which it’s a real shame. He is missed.”
The Incas felt some kinship with The Fall and Joy Division and Harry speaks fondly of Mark E Smith, Ian Curtis and JD producer Martin Hannett.
But he is adamant that “Inca Babies are NOT a Manchester band.”
He does claim though, slightly tongue-in-cheek ,that they are Manchester’s only genuine goth band.
“It’s funny because I’ve just spoken to John Robb, who’s released this terrific book on the history of goth, and I got him to finally admit that Inca Babies were the only true Manchester goth band,” he laughs.
“You can’t count Chameleons because they were Northern Soul goth. The Inca Babies were the only Manchester goth band. Not that we thought we were goth at the time, but I suppose in hindsight we probably had elements of that.”
After social media and reunion shows revived interest in the band, Harry rebooted the Incas in 2011 with a new line up featuring Membranes/Gold Blade drummer Rob Haynes.
While he remains pretty much the sole creative force in that band, Harry admits he enjoys having a foil like Marco to bounce ideas off.
A musician of some pedigree, Marco also plays with several other outfits including The Jam Messengers and Jesus and the Groupies.
“Because I know what Marco is capable of, because he has these other projects which are really way out there. I like to borrow from these different styles too,” Harry explains
Marco likens the pair’s songwriting process to building Frankenstein’s monster, as working separately in their home studios, they use file sharing technology to swap ideas and add layers of instrumentation.
“There’s a lot of cut and paste. It’s just a phrase, or it’s just a piece of something here, a loop there. We just keep the ball rolling. It’s always good times.”
The pair wanted to tour the new album, giving them an opportunity to meet face-to-face for the first time.
But those plans were put on hold when Marco suffered an unexpected heart attack.
“It happened, I don’t know, two months ago. Completely out of the blue. I never knew that I even had any kind of heart problems or anything like that. And so basically everything in my life had to be postponed,” he explains.
Thankfully Marco is now on the mend and the pair are still hoping to play live, perhaps playing a mixture of their own and Inca Babies’ songs.
A third album is already in the works, with the pair this time promising their own take on Hip Hop.
“It’s super heavy, super dirty, but the beats are there. The songs are based on like old school heavy Hip Hop, like, you know, Run DMC, Public Enemy and LL Cool J. Kind of like Big Beat. A really big bass, bass drums and a powerful snare. “
Sounds intriguing. This is clearly a story to be continued….
- We Are The Perilous Men is out now on both vinyl and digital formats via Black Lagoon Records, purchase here
- For more on Harry Stafford and Inca Babies follow these links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram
- To keep up with Marco Butcher check out these links Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter