Interview: Justin Sullivan, New Model Army

And England's Dreaming

New Model Army's 6th studio album The Love of Hopeless Causes is a harder hitting and more 'live' sounding record than its predecessor, Impurity. Moreover, what's really apparent is the depth of the songwriting and the scope and eloquence of Justin Sullivan's lyrics.

Despite that, however, Bradford's NMA have often been branded and dismissed as grim, puritanical Northern bastards with a crusty-dog-on-a-string following. How does Sullivan deal with this portrayal of the band?

"What it is, is the music comes blaring out at you, and it goes straight to the gut - and a lot of people just don't want that; they find that very intimidating. NMA music demands a reaction. And the easiest reaction to give is to turn it off."


Turning more specifically to the LP, I was taken by My People, with its cinematic sound, courtesy of epic swathes of brooding synths and sampled crowd chants. Lyrically the song deals with the conflict between individualistic values and tribal values, something at the core of NMA's ethos. Sullivan's sympathies lie firmly with the latter, as he explains:

"I think people are basically by nature tribal, and in this society everybody's encouraged to be an individual, and I think that's a mistake. That's why everything's broken up and breaking down, because it doesn't actually give people what they want."

Sullivan does concede that the downside of this can be breakdown into ethnic/ tribal conflict, citing Yugoslavia as an example. However, he elaborates on his initial argument.

"Extended family is the most obvious tribe and that's all broken down in Western society, which is a disaster; that's why we've got all these problems we've got in this culture."

I put it to him that maybe the 'extended family' he speaks of is something the band's fans find in following NMA. After all NMA fans are proverbial for their loyalty and commitment.

"What happens with NMA is there's all those people out there looking for family, and they come to us. It's a kind of substitute family for a short period of their lives."

The Love of Hopeless Causes, surprisingly perhaps, was produced by Bob Clearmountain, he of the 'big' stadium rock sound ala AC/DC, Bryan Adams, and Simple Minds. Unashamedly, Sullivan speaks of Big Bob in glowing terms.

"Bob hates the fact that he's gotten known for doing Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen. He's done an awful lot beside that. He did all the Chic stuff. Bob's just a sonic genius, and he's very, very good at sorting out things and making things clear. He said he'd much rather work on an NMA record than another Bryan Adams record."

The LP's title intrigued me. Anything to do with being undeterred by heartfelt protests falling on deaf ears?

"No, not really," he smiles. "Everybody I know is a hopeless cause. People are hopeless causes but I love 'em anyway. Somebody said, 'Is NMA a hopeless cause?' I said, 'No. It's three hopeless causes!"


The big difference with NMA these days is that their viewpoint is "less black and white" than in the past. And, consequently, their fury on this record is more tempered and perhaps a little more introspective. One thing that continues to make Sullivan vent his spleen is the state of the UK.

"The worst thing that ever happened to Britain was that we had the illusion that we won the Second World War. The Russians and the Americans win it. We survived it! But as a result of that we've got this weird idea that we're still somehow a kind of power in the world, but we're not!"

So true. And there's many more deeply rooted reasons for Britain's malaise besides. However, Sullivan saves his real venom for the present day so-called "leaders."

"The people that run the country are fuckin' morons, and they haven't quite tumbled to this yet!"

Sullivan even finds more cause for optimism in less developed and more turbulent parts of the world.

"If you travel a lot in the Third World and the old Eastern Bloc, which I do, there is apparently no kind of order. And yet there is a kind of 'strange' order to it. But you come to Northern Europe and everything is ordered, and yet the whole thing is out of control. It's a kind of weird irony."

Nevertheless, one thing that hasn't fundamentally charged in this world is NMA. As Sullivan succinctly puts it...

"We started off as this hungry little band from Bradford, and, despite 10 years on the road, we're still a hungry little band from Bradford."

Mark Liddell
Riff Raff
June 1993
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  1. When I first listened to "Love Of Hopeless Causes", it left me cold/confused ("It this supposed to be any good?"; the second time around I LOVED IT! It is one of my favourite records out of the whole bunch. Ta!