There’s a scene in High Fidelity where record store clerk Dick is telling love interest Annaugh about his belief that Green Day are directly influenced by Belfast punks Stiff Little Fingers. He throws on the band’s seminal debut album Inflammable Material and a patron from across the store unwittingly asks, “Is this the new Green Day?” Dick and Annaugh share a smirk and it’s a pretty adorable moment, but it also subtly highlights the nature of the band’s massive influence on a wealth of contemporary acts. Indeed, when they hit Australian shores later this month for this year’s Soundwave Festival, they’ll be sharing stages with a host of groups who owe a lot of their success to the band – including, yes, headliners Green Day.
While it’d be easy for the quartet to rest on the laurels of its past, frontman Jake Burns and co. say there’s no slowing down – having just finished recording their tenth studio album, No Going Back. Lyrically, the album channels the sort of themes the Fingers have been singing about since their 1977 inception, including socialised violence and political malaise.
“I’ve pointed out to a number of people that I can’t write ‘I love her, she loves me’ type songs,” says Burns. “So for me to write a song, it’s going to have to be about something that’s offended my sense of justice, and there’s never really any shortage of those subjects. People ask why the band have managed to stay popular for this long, and I think that’s a big part of it. We’ve always lived the same sort of lives I imagine our audience live, so it’s likely that if something offends me, a lot of the audience feels the same way about it and can relate – that’s what makes it mean something.”
For Burns, whose early songwriting focused on conflict in Northern Ireland and took influence from the likes of English bands like The Clash and The Ruts, having lyrics that call out oppression and encourage social change has always been important. “I listen to a lot of newer punk bands and a lot of the more popular ones seem to write about drinking, fighting and screwing. Obviously these are all parts of life, but if your only motivation in the morning is where your next beer’s going to come from… it wouldn’t be enough to get me out of bed.”
True to its DIY roots, the band turned to crowdfunding to financially back the new album – reaching the goal within 12 hours of launching the campaign. “The more we thought about it, the more we realised it was like getting your independence back, and that appealed hugely – to be able to make the record we wanted to make. Talking to people who’ve actually pledged towards the making of the record, they’ve gotten quite a kick out of it too, as they’ve become a part of the creation of the record. It breaks down a lot of barriers, so we’re kind of a perfect fit for this sort of thing.”
Burns says the fans’ backing also gave the band a level of motivation. “Our audience are trusting of us in that they’ve all pre-bought this record without hearing a note of it. We kind of feel that now we have a responsibility to make the best damn record we can, because of that trust.”
While Australian fans will likely get to hear some of the new gems firsthand when Stiff Little Fingers are Down Under for Soundwave – their first full tour of the country – Burns says they’ll try to encapsulate as much of the band’s career as humanly possible. “We’ll play the ‘greatest hits’ set,” he laughs, pointing out the band has never had a hit, per se. As far as Burns is concerned, that’s totally fine – Stiff Little Fingers have never wanted to write one.