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A new start (interview by Matt Shaw)

By • Apr 7th, 2010 • Category: features

With third album This Light And On This Evening regarded as a significant step forward for the band following the huge successes of debut The Back Room and An End Has A Start, the Birmingham four piece have gone through some personal changes as well – singer Tom Smith has become a father, while Russell Leech and Chris Urbanowicz are both now based in New York. itm?’s Matt Shaw spoke to Chris at their Dundee show.

itm?: The new album’s very different to previous affairs, on this tour are you finding that certain parts of the crowd have been reacting differently to new material compared to old material?

Chris: It’s definitely gotten a little better since the tour has gone on, people know the songs now, so it helps! Some might stand there with their mouths wide open either shocker or listening, but the more laddy aspect of our crowd still enjoy ‘the hits!’. The rest seem to be enjoying the new songs.

itm?: When you headlined Tartan Heart last year, you opened with Bricks and Mortar and closed with Papillon, how are you finding fitting the new material in with songs from previous albums?

Chris: Yeah, we play a few of the more hard to get into tracks in the middle and saving Bricks and Mortar and Papillon to the end, they really fit in well. There’s a few that are becoming live favourites, the two mentioned and ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool’ as well.

itm?: Could the Editors that were writing ‘Bullets’ and ‘Munich’ have forseen the direction you’ve taken now?

Chris: The main guitar line in ‘Munich’ is put through a guitar synth anyway, there’s a lot of keyboards on that track anyway and the only difference is that the keyboards are in the front now and the guitars are in the background. I’ve started writing on keyboards rather than guitars now as well.

itm?: Was it quite a natural change or did it require a fair bit of effort to change things?

Chris: No, it was quite natural! It was a case of moving it to the front rather than using them as melodic tools instead of background stuff.

itm?: There have been a lot of bands that had broken through around the same time as you did that have fallen from grace when mainstream radio has moved to more commercial music, how can bands like yourselves, Biffy Clyro, Kasabian maintain your popularity where others have failed?

Chris: I think all three of those bands weren’t hyped to the max, it’s been a slow build for all of us. We weren’t massive on our first record and we gradually got bigger and bigger. Word of mouth helps and with the three bands you’ve mentioned, we’ve all got reputations for being a good live band, which helps. People keep coming to your shows if they know they’re going to get a good performance.

itm?: There was an interview where Tom (Smith) where he felt as if you’re misunderstood, that as you were seen as decent people that you couldn’t write darker material – who’s the best judge of the quality and depth of the bands output?

Chris: The band! I don’t really listen to what other people say, it’s as hard to take a compliment as a criticism. We’ve had both sides for years and years, when someone says “Good show” it doesn’t mean anything, and if people slag off your album, it doesn’t mean anything either. We’re the best judges of what we do, we’ve done shit songs in the past and we don’t let them get out, if it’s a good song and we fuck them up we’ll stop, change it, start again and it’s no problem.

itm?: There’s a fair few Scottish dates on the tour, tonights date in Dundee is much smaller than other dates like the Glasgow Academy date, do you tailor the set for different venues or are you confident that the current set will work anywhere?

Chris: One of the reasons we’ve done so well in Scotland and places in Germany is that we’ve been to not the obvious cities, on this tour we’ve already been to Preston, Lincoln, Bradford – in Germany we’ve been to off kilter places like Liepzig. We’ve played Rock Ness before, it’s always nice to go a bit off piste and play to different people. The reactions are usually great too as they don’t often get many bands so it’s good to head there and have a good time!

itm?: You’re playing Isle of Wight festival in Summer – what other plans do you have?

Chris: Festivals, festivals, festivals!

itm?: Each album has had a certain progression – started to think about the fourth album yet?

Chris: We’ve been constantly thinking about it, we can’t wait to get back in the studio! We’ll be working with Flood again, it’s the first time we’ve used the same producer for two records in a row. We keep using the word “Heavy” – not Metallica heavy, but big heavy riffs, like Queens of the Stone Age or Mark Lanegan, still very electronic and aggressive in a Nine Inch Nails sort of way, but we’ll have to see what comes out of it. That’s definitely what we’ve got in our minds, big heavy riffs and big electronic dance records.

itm?: There are two great supports tonight – Cold Cave and The Strange Death Of Liberal England. How is the downfall of some of the major outlets for alternative music such as BBC 6Music and Planet Sound going to affect these bands, and yourself?

Chris: It’s a difficult one, there’s one reason as 6Music is shutting down and that’s nobody is listening to it. Whether or not it’s the musical landscape or if they’re not doing their jobs well, there’s not a market for this new crop of music. If nobody wants to buy it, then what’s the point of it existing? It’s sad but at the same time if people don’t want to listen to that music then tough shit.
Music always goes through phases whether or not it’s indie or pop or R&B. It went through the same in ’98 when Britpop imploded and there was this big void until the Strokes came out for guitar music, unless you were a fan of bland indie artists.

itm?: Do you see it being a more difficult time for young bands to come through? There seems to be a lot more alternative music festivals out there, will it be a quicker cycle this time?

Chris: I think the most important thing is that music is going back underground which can only be a good thing. The real passion is put back to music of this ilk and isn’t played on radio anymore. If people want to find this music, they have to search for it and that’s when it’s the most appealing, when you discover something that excites you that you’ve found it’s a lot more interesting than just hearing the track on the radio or heading on Spotify.
Everything happens quicker now than it did five or six years ago, I don’t think that’s specifically a good thing, but it’s what people want, they want to see and hear something now, download it onto their phone and listen to it on the bus home. Again, the best bands will survive and the faddy ones won’t.

itm?: There always seems to be a few bands that break through to the major commercial stations from each phase of music, what do you feel the identity of British music is at the minute?

Chris: There’s nowhere near the density there was when we came out, in 2005 there was us, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Futureheads, now people want to listen to pop music. It goes in those swings and roundabout but luckily we’ve contoured all that and we can do what we want. We’re lucky, but it depends what the kids want, and they rule the roost in what’s popular nowadays.

itm?: There’s every chance in a few years time that British alternative music will be back in favour, what do you think these bands can learn from yourselves?

Chris: Pay your dues! That’s the most important thing, you learn respect for your business when you go through the Travelodges and playing to ten people, like we did and the bands who are surviving did.

Also, stay away from hype and scenes the best you can and you won’t fade away. I don’t want to mention Gay Dad or The Bravery, bands that got hyped to shit then fell by the wayside, so it’s best to keep doing your own thing!

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