A rush of judgment could suggest the usual British indie band too indebted to the sounds of the 80’s, but since the early singles was easy to understand that the North London quartet were different class. A flash in the pan some said, but the amazing wisdom and balance of their compositions from their self titled debut album cleared up any doubt, their energetic and emotional live performances were further proof.
The ‘difficult’ second album emblematically titled ‘Grow Up’ is on the way out.. The intense and gloomy single ‘Hollow’, paired with the intriguing visuals directed by the trusted collaborator Jason Weidner, strengthens the impression of a steadily growing band…
As many will know, your name was taken from a reworked and retitled version of The Cure’s ‘Grinding Halt’ song. Could you please talk about the origin of the band? It does seem a meeting of kindred spirits hanging around London’s clubs and gigs, doesn’t it?
Simon: Me and Rob lived together in Birmingham and have been friends for many years. I met Jo hanging around the same clubs with mutual friends and we played in another band for a while.
When we had the idea of doing something together we just needed a drummer and Caz stepped in, even though she had never played drums before.
I absolutely hate the idea of advertising for musicians on gumtree, so i’m glad we got together organically. Choosing a band name is difficult. It’s a wilfully awkward name but i like to think we’ve grown into it!
What’s your earliest music-related childhood memory? Was there a moment when you decided that music was what you wanted to pursue?
Simon: None of my family are musical, but when I was little I remember my older brother had a friend who could actually play my keyboard (all kids had a keyboard back then!) I was really impressed with his ability to pick stuff up by ear.
Caz: Music was always around when growing up but hearing ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure as a teenager was definitely a turning point. There was something about the surreal perfection of it and the sense of being in a gang away from “normal” life that really got me. I wanted to be in a band that would have the impact on people that The Cure had on me.
What was the writing/recording process for your new album like compared to your debut one? Is it still a DIY affair or do you have a producer this time? Are there any highlights that came up during that process?
Rob: This one was a little bit different to the first album in terms of process apart from the writing which was pretty much the same as always.
When we made the first record we weren’t really aiming for an album at the outset and until the end we essentially were just recording the songs we had written as we went a long over quite a long period of time.
For this album we were keen to approach it as an album and record everything in as close to a single coherent time period as we logistically could, so we did lots of demos wrote lots of songs and worked harder on arrangements than we have done previously. I think this album was a bit less DIY, crucially we didn’t mix it all ourselves which is perhaps the major difference but we were still very involved. In terms of producer we did the same as before where Keith TOTP produced it along with ourselves but I think we knew what we were doing a bit more, could play better and had spent more time working on the songs than perhaps we had done before.
Your new album is titled ‘Grow Up’, is it related to a band that is very conscious of developing and improving its sound? Or is it a more an individual matter? Did you, thematically, have an all-encompassing vibe you wanted to portray with this release?
Jo: It was kind of a joke to start with because the emotions within our songs are so strong: imagining someone listening to us for the first time and going “Christ, grow up”. But it also made sense, as you suggest, in the context of it being a second record and something which we really wanted to be a musical progression. Lyrically the songs are all about change and growth, or lack of it.
There’s obviously the sophomore slump idea that second records are often a disappointment to fans. Does that concern you?
Rob: It deeply concerned me before setting about writing it but once we got in to the swing of things I think I was fairly sure that I’d be pretty pleased with it. Once we were about half way through recording it I wasn’t concerned at all.
Of course, some people are always going to like one record more than the other which is absolutely fine, but for us I think we know this one is a clear progression, both in terms of songs and playing, from the first so we are proud of it. There’s often a certain naive charm inherent in debut albums which can lend them a magic they might not otherwise possess and that is something you can’t really rely on again but I think the songs, performance and the sound we got on this is closer to what I’ve had in my head for a long time and I hope that comes across when people hear it.
Simon: As soon as we had ‘Hollow’, I knew we were on to something good. I think we’re a better band than we were 2 years ago, and hopefully comes across on the record.
In the first album, lyrically speaking, Jo dealt with a variety of negative and painful emotions channelling them creatively in a positive way, like to embrace the darker side of life, to show the light on the other side in a sort of cathartic way. Did you still follow the same path this time? Do you feel fortunate to have this therapeutical outlet? What’s the most personal thing you’ve written about thus far?
Jo: It is honestly a wonderful outlet to be able to yell out your extreme feelings to music you love, yes. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do it.
All the lyrics on this record are still very personal. Obviously as a romantic tortured soul I am unable to not make everything all about myself, and I’ve now probably lyrically overshared about pretty much everything in my head short of the physical intricacies of my every sexual encounter or something (next album – just kidding). I used to feel kind of self-conscious about how earnest and intimate all the words I write are, but on thinking about it some of my favourite songwriters manage to write beautifully about super personal stuff – Bobby Wratten, Meredith Graves, Adrian Borland, John Darnielle, Björk, Dylan Baldi – so I guess it’s OK.
There is a difference between this album and the first lyrically in that all the songs on ‘Grow Up’ are about personal development in some way, or alternatively wrestling with inertia.
The Fierce Panda label has always meant quality since the 90’s, still recalling its early highly collectable double 7”s singles with lots of amazing bands, -many destined to do big things. How did your relationship with the label start and how is it developing?
Caz: When I started playing in bands Fierce Panda had always been a label that I admired and wanted to be signed to. They are truly independent and are one of those cult labels that you would follow and trust. I think we contacted them at first and played their club night, then Simon Williams came to see us play at Tipsy Bar in Dalston and that’s where we met him for the first time. It must have gone well as they’ve been with us and very supportive ever since. They allow us to keep all creative control and we always have the last word on how things are done.
I think you’re the meeting point of different influences beautifully merged together by your own taste and sensibility, some critics recently labelled the band as ‘goth post punk’, do you feel comfortable to be included in a scene with a strict dress-code and “imaginario”?
What do you think of the resurgence in the last few years of a great number of bands related to the gothic dark sound of the 80’s?
Caz: I don’t think being labelled as part of that scene has been detrimental to us so it’s all good! A lot of those bands are great and it’s exciting to see new bands doing music influenced by bands that we like.
Simon: We are more post-punk than goth, but its nothing to do with a dress code. We have played a goth festival, but we’ve also played an indiepop festival, and I’d like to think our appeal isn’t limited to fans of those specific genres.
With which musician/s would you like to collaborate or get as a producer in the future?
Jo: Steve Lilywhite
Simon: At the moment id say no one. It’s more exciting doing stuff ourselves! Then again, if Steve was offering his services for free…
What’s your favourite part about playing live and can you remember your 1st gig as a band?
Which songs would you put on your perfect pre-show playlist?
Caz: Gigs are for me the best part of being in a band. Playing your songs to people who like them and getting a response from a crowd is an incredible feeling. There’s also a crazy amount of adrenaline involved and it becomes a bit of a drug. Our first gig was around the corner from where we live and part of a friend’s club night. We didn’t have a lot of songs and the sound was pretty bad in there but there were a lot of people and I remember that we played very well (it was my first gig ever on drums and it was both terrifying and exhilarating – I was just glad I didn’t mess anything up!). The response from the audience was very positive so it was an amazing start for us. The chemistry between us was definitely there already and it was something that people who saw us mentioned then.
Simon: I often make playlists to put on before our gigs because it helps it feel more like our own event rather than any old music the soundman might play.
At the 100 Club for example, we came on to ‘Up The Down Escalator‘ by The Chameleons, but that was before we’d toured with them.
In this period when music is all about Spotify, mp3, digital online albums, I guess we’re missing the beautiful true charm of the vinyl hunt, the covers, the record on the turntable… Is any of you a vinyl collector/lover? Do you have any record shops in your mind that’ve stuck out over the years?
Caz: All of us love and buy vinyl. We are not purists though and have nothing against digital music as it’s very convenient and has allowed everyone to be able to listen and discover so much music so easily. Not being from the UK, I was fascinated by Rough Trade and it was very exciting to go there for the first time when I moved to London. Our local shops are Flashback Records and Audio Gold. Small and friendly places with a good selection of records and friendly staff. I personally love Drift in Totnes. Beautiful shop where you can spend hours discovering and listening to new releases. It’s very well arranged and they have a lot of great recommendations. Their newsletter is one of the ways I hear new records.
Simon: I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve been buying old vinyl since I was a teenager. My favourite places are charity shops and car boot sales because I like a bargain.
Please, hope I can make an individual question to Rob? You always keep a low profile , but in my opinion you’re one of the best unsung guitarists around. I’m a Rickenbacker’s sound lover, which were your inspirations?
Rob: Thanks very much, that’s very kind. I do think there are a bunch of great guitar players around at the moment, Anna Calvi is one that springs to mind, but I don’t think the audiences focus is on guitars as much as it has been in times in the past, which is not necessarily a bad thing as really a guitar part is only good if it’s in the right place, playing the right thing in a good song. Luckily for me this is made easier, not only by having a great singer and front person, but also having such a musically sympathetic and responsive drummer and bass player.
I suspect my influences are blindingly obvious e.g. Johnny Marr, Peter Buck, but there are a few others such as Billy Corgan and Jonny Greenwood. These days though I tend to think more of songs and what I can build up within them and what might best compliment what else is happening in the arrangements than particular guitar sounds or specific influences which probably bored the rest of the band to tears while recording endless guitar parts for this record. Of course I also can’t ever quite restrain myself from making things pointlessly complicated which seems to be my version of trying to show off…..
What artists and bands are you excited about at the moment? Any tips?
Rob: ANOHNI, Cloud Nothings, Car Seat Headrest, Angel Olsen,
Caz: Victories At Sea, Eagulls and Public Service Broadcasting
Jo: Merchandise, Dream Wife
Simon : Asylums, The Empty Page, and we all love Ezra Furman.
Thank you very much for your time, we wish you all best for your record and tour in the new year… Just a final message to our readers?
Simon: Thanks. I should probably plug our album which is available to pre-order on our website here. And if anyone would like to book us for a gig in Greece, send us a message! 🙂
Photo credits: The Chaos Engineers (1st one), Nick J Thompson (2nd one), Oliver Krapp (3rd one)