When Senser exploded onto the British music scene in the early ’90s their heady mix of politically-charged rap and rock was a breath of fresh air.
Debut album Stacked Up sold nearly half a million copies and yielded rock club staples like No Comply, Age of Panic and Eject.
It even saw them earn favourable comparisons to their trans-Atlantic colleagues, Rage Against The Machine.
‘We like to think of Rage Against The Machine as the American answer to Senser,’ bassist and founder member James Barrett wryly notes.
Unfortunately relentless touring took its toll, and blaming musical differences, the band split in two in 1995. Senser continued with a new line-up but the momentum was gone.
But the band reunited in 2003 and have been fighting the good fight ever since.
‘Against all the odds, we’ve managed to keep cracking at it, and it really has been against all the odds. Just geographically, it’s been tricky. [frontman] Heitham, he now lives in Paris. He moved out there about 15 years ago, smoking Gauloise, drinking coffee and writing poetry.
‘We’re all busy, we’ve all got families and responsibilities in life, but we still all love being in Senser, writing music with each other, and doing the shows and everything.
‘It’s not always the easiest, but we do it.There’s enough that we love about it that keeps bringing us back, and people keep asking us to come back!’
Co-vocalist Kerstin Haigh is also back onboard full-time after taking time out to raise her family.
‘It’s all the original members still, but minus a couple of people, we were seven back in the 90s, now we’re five.
‘Heitham and John, our drummer, came back years ago. We’ve actually been together in this line-up longer than we were together before the big split, but people still come to us saying, “It’s so great to see you guys have just got back together!”
‘We’re like,’ he deadpans: ‘We have actually been back for about 15 years now…’
For Stacked Up’s 20th anniversary the band put out a special edition, with unreleased and rare tracks.
‘It was very nostalgic because we were rifling through material we could use to update it, looking at photos and tour passes, press cuttings, all that sort of thing.
‘All those memories are always there anyway – that whole experience was amazing, but very intense. We still play a big bulk of that material, there were so many amazing things that come back, that gig, that festival, that we laugh about and think about, and maybe secretly get a bit angry about, but we try not to go down that road again. We’ve all been through our therapy process with each other now and talked through the issues that caused the problems back then.
‘And we were so young, to be put through the pressure of the industrial mincer of the music business, and everything that came with it.
‘We were pretty much living in a bus at the time. We got ourselves a sleeper bus as soon as we could, but what we didn’t realise is that a lot of bands who could afford a sleeper bus would also make sure they had a hotel every three or four days for their sanity. It had a definite effect, it’s a big like Big Brother in a sleeper bus. At times there were 15 of us living on a bus – personal space comes at a premium and that starts to cause a fair bit of psychosis. Ultimately it leads to a demise which happens to a lot of bands.’
The band’s lyrics have always tackled fascism, and while the names have changed, the problems haven’t.
‘If anything they seem more relevant now than they were back then, although it all comes under a different guise. It’s not ‘racist’, or extreme as long as you call it ‘alt-right’, that makes it ok. There’s no fascistic, Nazism, as long as it’s called that. It’s a very odd time we’re going through.
‘There’s mass-immigration, major poverty, and people will look for scapegoats, and lo and behold, here we are. Sadly it does still give us plenty to write about.’
The band’s last album was 2013’s To The Capsules.
‘We have been running to a sort of five-year turnaround on each album and we’ve just gone over our five year limit! We are working on a new album. We’ve got some great ideas in the pot that we’re trying to get through as quickly as we can.
Capsules saw them – successfully – embrace crowdfunding for the first time. Will they follow that route again?
‘I think at the moment that looks most likely. We could go out and get a record deal, but we quite like the crowdfunding thing, it gives you so much independence and interaction with your fanbase.’
The band also has a date at the ‘90s-oriented Shiiine On Festival at Minehead Butlins in November. How do they reconcile such a backwards-looking event with trying to forge ahead?
‘We haven’t really done something like this before. Some people might say everything we do is nostalgia, because we still play a lot of the older stuff, but when you’re a band, it’s just what you do. We do new stuff as much as we do the old stuff.
‘We haven’t done any big events before like this where it is just a nostalgia trip, but we have done gigs before with bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, Collapsed Lung, Credit to the Nation, who were big at the time, and it’s great. The vibe is great.
‘You can see people who are almost in tears who want to mosh because that’s what they remember but they can’t quite manage it. They’re reliving their youth when they were completely carefree and it’s great to be part of that.’
Talking Heads, Southampton
Friday, July 13