Friday, 23 December 2011

A cheeky few albums of the year..

1. Wonder Years - Suburbia, I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing. Hopeless Records.

Straight off the back of last year's "The Upsides"; The Wonder Years re-join the indie/punk melee with an album flooded with both influence from Alan Ginsberg's poem "America" and questions of mid-twenties identity. Greatly influenced by indie staples The Mountain Goats and The Hold Steady in the lyrics, and musically by contemporary pop-punk, they combine the best of both worlds. The record contains very introspective, yet non-melodramatic lyrics; here is a guy observing his surroundings in his hometown of Philadelphia, and counting his blessings with the life he leads, exclaiming a message of moving on from the past with an optimistic, fighting spirit. The lyrics are positioned in-front of a backdrop of "Suburbia" mourns the deterioration of his local suburb and "Woke Up Older" is the fallout of his relationship and consequently feeling older and alone. Special mention to "I Won't Say the Lord's Prayer" which is a very commendable, scathing critique on organised religion. It's a thoughtful album, and one that is lacking

absolutely no elements - the music is fast, hard, with plenty of flair, and their character shines throughout. Album of the year.

"Came out swinging, from a south Philly basement, covered in beer and sweat, under half-lit fluorescents. I spent the summer writing songs about getting better, and if I'm being honest, I'm getting there." - on Came Out Swinging

(Ed: I recently interviewed singer Dan "Soupy" Campbell, and told him that the Front Bottoms' album was my AOTY. Unintentionally forgetting about his band's album and rather fortunately avoiding fanboy gushing, ha).

Full album on Spotify. Stream "Work Up Older" here.

2. Front Bottoms - Front Bottoms Bar/None Records.

Fresh out of a basement somewhere in New Jersey, the Front Bottoms this year released their highly anticipated debut album. Last year's "Slow Dance to Soft Rock", an unsung gem of an EP, displayed their trademark of quirky indie-punk music and built a healthy bit of hype. Their woefully comical, ridiculous name conjures the impression that this is a joke band that doesn't take itself seriously. Listening to the album, you realise that behind the ridiculous name is a scrappy young band that, in fact, takes itself pretty seriously. The opener, "Flashlight", a lovelorn story of

a romance with a neighbour-girl, captures their trademark wit and underlying sensitivity and sincere expression. Moving through the exuberant chorus of "Mountain" (even people I know who can't stand their style love this tune) to the angst-fuelled jam at the end of "Hooped Earrings", there is no lyric or touch of flair that is left unnoticed. "The Front Bottoms" is one of the most full, satisfying albums in a long-time.

"I have this dream that I'm hitting my dad with a baseball bat, he is screaming and crying for help, and maybe halfway through it has more to do with me killing him than it ever did protecting myself." - on Father

Listen to "Maps" from the album here

3. Maritime - Human Hearts Dangerbird Records

Davey von Bohlen, of influential nineties' bands Promise Ring and Cap'n Jazz, returns this year with the latest album from his new project Maritime and, in doing so, garners the accolade of having released his best to date. Straight in with driven drum-work and some inscrutable yet poignant lyrics, "It's Casual" sets the tone for the album. The inclusion of 'in-joke-esque' references to their last album in one of the first few lyrics let us know they've picked up right where they left off. Containing their usual poppy, guitar-fuelled indie-rock shtick, there are, however, new layers and effects splattered throughout that add a welcome depth to their sound. "Annihilation Eyes", a gem on the album, is a driven indie pop-song that has too melodies for it's own good, and closer "Apple of My Irony" (despite it's daft name) is is an anthemic and exuberant end to the album.

"We make ourselves appear, drinking wine, check my hair, shed a tear, for all the people hiding in here. My stomach in knots, I drank tea straight from the pot, and did a dance like mannequins." - on Annihilation Eyes.

Listen to "Annihilation Eyes" here

Honorable mentions, off the top of my head:

The Horrible Crowes - Elsie - Listen to "Ladykiller" here

Fireworks - Gospel - Listen to "Arrows" here

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Jack's Mannequin; Their people, their things.


When former Something Corporate singer Andrew McMahon released his first solo album under the Jack's Mannequin monicker in 2005, it was under less than favourable circumstances. A few months previous, he had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and was given the decision to release the album while ill and not tour, or postpone it indefinitely. He made the decision to put out the album, "Everything In Transit", and it was instantly heralded as his best work by critics, and sold very respectably, hitting number 37 on the Billboard charts. The album, very strangely, contained harrowing foreshadowing of his soon-to-be discovered illness in the lyrics and occasionally sounded very ominous; despite the album being an anthemic, summer pop record. Despite the odds, he eventually recovered, and it was soon to be clear that "Everything In Transit" was not, as was possible, to be his swan-song.

On the first anniversary of his diagnosis, he mustered the strength to play a charity benefit show, and from that point onwards, it was only a matter of time, recovery permitting, that he would return to music. In his first album since his health struggles, 2008's "The Glass Passenger," he breached his time in hospital with unwavering confidence, and on 'Caves', the album's highlight, painted a picture of powerlessness and despair that was painfully vivid, and more importantly, honest. The album was patchy - it left many fans disappointed - however it had such good moments on it, that there was no love lost for the still fledgling singer/songwriter.

The first striking thing about the new album, "People and Things" is the layered, prettiness of the whole thing. There is not a moment without bright pianos and keys, and there are seemingly infinite layers of strings blanketing each song. The treatment given to the album in the studio is so thorough that every moment of pessimism in the lyrics seems to have it's own little musical counterpoint. "Amy, I" holds one of the biggest hooks of the album, and is, aptly, slated to be next single. The song is in many ways a perfect still capture of the album. Both the record's strength, and weakness is in it's pop sensibility - too often is creativity and lyrical substituted for a simple melody and a catchy chorus. Andrew himself admitted that "Amy, I" was just a random phrase that came to him while writing - which begs the question; where are the considered epithets seen in past releases? On one of the album's highlights, "Hey, Hey, Hey (We're All Gonna Die)", the old magic is recaptured, and in one of the rare moments where it doesn't sound like a pop-rock band, we're reminded of what this project actually is - Andrew musing thoughts sung over his piano. Referencing his previous album, and singing "Keep your eyes on the road, I'm the glass passenger, and I sing for a travelling band." it is one of the most poignant moments on the album. The fact that this song feels nostalgic and makes you look to the past, not to the future, both shows how far they've come, and, sadly, how far they've strayed. The following "Amelia Jean"and "Platform Fire" keep the standards high, before the record stumbles into the last three tracks which seem soft - sentimental numbers that don't quite strike home.

This album is literally soaked in unabashed emotionalism - there is not a moment where Andrew does not decry a relationship in his life, or a moment of revelation. It is positive on his part - it looks to the future, but is firmly rooted in issues, self-doubt and relationship stories. Nothing more is a testament to this than the opener "My Racing Thoughts", on which he discusses his relationship with his wife, and how she understands him and his troubles unlike anyone else. It bursts with melody, though leaves you feeling a bit shortchanged by the end. The chorus feels flat, and the relentless guitar and keyboard melodies are overindulgent and not as strong as previous singles. "People, Running" has pace and drive, and is most likely a take on his hectic touring schedule, and looking on life from the outside. It is most certainly a mood album; an album you can live in for it's duration. The music is consistently satisfying; there is no doubt to that. It's problem lies in the weakness of a few of the tracks, and the general feeling that there could be more to it all. They still sound very much the same, and considering that many a year has passed since their last release, you'd hope that they would have something fresher, and more exciting to offer.

It is a beautiful thing, his recovery, and life without Jack's Mannequin, for many people, would be a huge loss; important music; important songs missing from their lives. But it all harkens back to the greatness of his debut, Everything In Transit, and the comparison that you cannot help but make. It is almost impossible for Jack's Mannequin fans to not put any new material in context, and there is a generalised feeling of fans every time a new album is put out; apprehension and pessimism; that it may not be able to hold a candle to the aforementioned album. There is a lot to this album - it sounds great, it has fantastic hooks, and there is depth to the songs, both in the music, and in some of the lyrics. But there is the feeling that it is incomplete, and lacking the satisfaction of previous releases. The Glass Passenger was promising, and if this album is what they've been promised, it, so unfortunately, falls a little short. That said, this album is affecting in a way that many other albums released this year have not been, and addictive; a soundtrack that is extremely nice to have in the background as you move around, on journeys and home alone. Like many others, I still believe that there will be a magnum opus from Andrew McMahon in future years. It's important to remember that disappointment does not equate a poor performance, and out of context, this is a great album that just seems to keep growing. Recommended. 4/5

Dog Problems; The album that almost never happened.


When musicians Nate Ruess and Sam Means were dropped by Elektra records at the tender age of 21, they must have thought it was all over. They had just given their latest demos to their label's A&R team, typically anxious and profit dependant, and been given a less than favourable response. These demos, of course, were not the sunny, bubblegum pop hit singles typical of the band that they had signed aged just 18; they were experimental, conceptual, Harry Nielsen, ELO and 70's pop inspired songs - radically experimental with instrumentation, with thick and self-specific narratives sugarcoated in lush synth lines, and swirling melodies. And those were only the demos - a meagre taste of the full-fledged concept album of loss, heartbreak and acceptance that it was to become. So what did they do next? Released it themselves. It was a chance - the chance only an artist who truly believes in what they were doing would take, and a decision that they will no doubt never regret.

Opening with "Matches", the album sets the scene. The narrator is dwelling in his home alone, feeling estranged from his other half; he sighs"You don't seem to tire, when i'm not around." Continuing the story, "I'm Actual" begins with an uninhibited plea for attention - "Can we please take this hour and talk about me?", delivered by Nate Ruess' naked voice unaccompanied, and building into a tense waltz complete with a string arrangement and leading accordion. A few tracks later and with the story unravelling, we have the mid-point of the album, the title-track "Dog Problems" where seemingly everything reaches a head. The frolicking horns pause for a moment mid-song, and Nate Ruess' vocal pierces the piano chords to softly sing some of the album's most gutwrenching lyrics -"Can you hear me, are you listening, this is the sound of my heart breaking. and I hope it's entertaining, because for me, it's a bitch." After this, suddenly, instruments move in, and the song builds with to a huge crescendo of orchestration that makes the end of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" sound like a whimper. From there, it's right back to business..

Continuing with "Oceans", one of the poppiest and most catchy tracks on the album, the narrator is mournful, yet aims to get his life back on track;"Why am I scared of people in a room? Why can't you see a good time, are the people close to you?" Later, "Snails", the name-sake of the album, is a slow ballad about the narrator's dog leaving home, musing about living life slowly and appreciating the small things. "The Compromise," which boosts energy levels, is an incisive critique into major label politics, and told through deliberately thinly veiled dancing metaphors and carries one of the best choruses on the album."Inches and Falling" returns to anguish with a desperate cry for any form of meaningful relationship over rollicking drums, stabbing horns and a chorus that cries for a gang vocal and loud singalong. After all of this, there is only one way to go, acceptance. Enter "If Work Permits". The perfect conclusion to the album, the narrator feels nostalgia over the sights and sounds of his empty home and the experiences he has had, expresses sailor metaphors and comes to the conclusion that he"Could use a warm kiss, instead of a cold goodbye". In the ultimate moment of catharsis which comes after the drastic change in dynamic, when he huge distorted guitars kick in; he thinks about his one time lover and shouts"If she seems as lonely as me, let her sink." Curtains close.

Released in 2007 Dog Problems is the indie-pop magnum opus that the Format overcame adversity to create. Brilliantly telling the tale of a failed romance, and creating an album that strangely sounds more like a west-end musical than most possibly any record in the pop-rock pantheon. Stylistically, there has never been anything quite like it, even the comparisons to instrumentation of ELO and noting the storytelling, theatrical delivery present won't touch the originality of the indie-rock infused post-modern musical that is the album. Breaking up shortly after the album's release, Nate and Sam have ensured that this will be their latest and greatest release together - a swan-song that will, as fate would have it, never be followed. Coming so far from their debut release on major label, this record is proof that a few years of maturation can change anything and everything. If there was ever a ringing endorsement for beauty and meaning in suffering, this album would be it.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Punk and Pop-Punk: Thoughts on the 'What is "Real Punk" Music?' Debate

With this year being arguably one of the finest years of music in recent years, having witnessed a huge revival and surge in popularity of pop-punk music, unfortunately it's increasing status and it's greater presence in mainstream culture occasionally brings it under fire from critics. Blink 182 are back, new bands the Wonder Years and Fireworks are in full form. Set Your Goals feel like veterans, and there are a legion of young bands that harken back to New Found Glory's finer days. It has prompted criticisms such as "it's just whiney pop music" and "it's all the same watered down throwback to bands like Green Day." These are extremely common criticisms. But it's this I'm not angry with. It's a specific statement from members of generations before us and a few snobby internet teens who turn to the past for musical satisfaction. They will fiercely say, with unwavering conviction and certainty; that pop-punk, "is not punk", infuriatingly negating the whole music genre and scene that so many of us love. When questioned, the strongest point in their argument, which shall be debated in this piece, is that the original punk movement was based on politics and social change, a common belief. But is this statement entirely true, and does it negate pop-punk music as undeserving of the 'punk name'?

I was sat in a hostel bar in Buenos Aires on a rather typical evening on my travels, sipping the first of many beers in an average, university style, ritualistic pre-drinking session. Everything was quite normal for that brief period in my life; two close friends, a few nice people we'd just met , sitting at a long table having a post-dinner drink, warming up for the night in the city to come. Then, everything changed. Mid conversation, i am posed one of the most frustrating questions ever brought upon man. The person I was chatting to was a friendly, but loud and outspoken mid-twenties guy from northern england, and he inquired: "What kind of music are you into?" Now, over the years I've learned to direct people to my ipod to see for themselves, an easy cop out of a response, but a response to this question that is as brilliantly thorough as I have ever discovered. However, tonight I chose to answer vocally. "Loads of different things; at the moment, a mixture of things, mainly punk music." The very second I finish my sentence, he inquires further: "What bands?" I try my best to name some of the bands I listen to and put the music in perspective. The damage was done. "That's not fucking punk!" he fired back. But little did I realise I was facing a 15 minute scolding very reminiscent of angering the teacher in a primary school class. The veracity in which he was shouting at me was turning heads - literally three other people instantly began skirting our conversation, getting the kind of enjoyment you would get out of it if a bar fight just kicked off at the other side of the room. If honest, the guy was so loud in protesting against me, that they didn't have a choice but to overhear. After a thoroughly demeaning, yet somehow amusing, conversation, I managed to ditch him, and over the next few days gathered my thoughts on the topic.

Looking objectively at modern pop-punk music and 70's punk music, there are a few clear cut differences. modern punk is based in america, among late-adolescents and young adults, and a throwback to the distorted guitar, fast punk music of the original movement. 70's punk was rooted in the uk and co-existed with ska, and revolved around more of an underground arts culture among working class adults. Bands in the original 70's punk movement are largely considered to have been outspoken about politics, oppression and the working class, while pop-punk is more about the experiences and conflicted emotions of post-adolescence, and the angst that comes along with it. Punk, arguably, built it's name on the all encompassing nature of the music. Most punks felt a part of a huge movement based on shared political ideals. The political ideals are not integral to the music of modern pop-punk in America, and there is no widespread political ideology amongst it's fans. It is more of a musical phenomenon, and there is not a preachy, unifying, protesting social edge to the music, and in this way it differs greatly from 70's punk. If this alone is the defining factor of 'punk' then the people arguing this point have a more or less steady footing, however this still must be questioned. If you stumble upon the latest record by an American pop-punk band called The Wonder Years, and you'll find the track "I Won't Say The Lords Prayer", a ballsy critique on organised religion and it's impact on society. They sing "It's a gang mentality, a dangerous thing. Billboards flaunt scare tactics, make you think that you're only good if you're afraid of being punished." In more mainstream and mid-2000's examples, NOFX's 'War On Errorism' and Green Day's 'American Idiot' were largely focused on the presidency of George Bush and the war in Iraq, and sought to unite the young among america to get involved in politics and rebel. One can't directly compare this to lyrics of any arbritary first wave punk song, but it must be noted that pop-punk does occasionally have a political edge, and isn't that the definitive characteristic that makes punk, punk? Can you alienate the pop-punk bands that aren't directly associated with social commentary?

Looking back to the origins of punk's history and the songs of some of the most timeless bands from that era would reveal very surprising truths about punk. The Clash sung songs about girls and partying (see: "Should I Stay or Should I Go" and "Rock the Casbah"). The Sex Pistols didn't believe in anything but mindless anger (see: Anarchy in the UK), and rather ridiculously, were essentially a boy band constructed by Malcolm McClaren, (see: "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle", among common histories of the band). Is when the Sex Pistols played on a boat on the Thames during the Queens Jubilee as a marketing stunt, without any political motivation really the legitimate, meaningful protest that punks at the time would feel it is? In the words of a mentor at music college, "It got me in the record shop first thing the next day." The Undertones' greatest hit was "Teenage Kicks," a song about essentially wanting to get laid: need I say more? So, why is punk held in such a hugely political light? I ask, especially considering there is political music found elsewhere, such as the blues, which came directly out of American slavery. I'm positive that within the subculture there were a legion of small bands who really were angry about specific causes, and rallied against genuine oppression, but then consider this: did they really make that much of an impact at all? Surely if they had made an impact on specific issues, surely they would be remembered as such. Even the Specials had more political commentary than some of these punk bands (see: "Ghost Town", "Too Much, Too Young"), and they were a Ska band. The whole movement also dissipated quickly into what can only be described as a trend: the police, a pop group, were marketed by their label as punks, posing in leather jackets by decrepit walls in their photoshoots, and largely giving the opinion of a tougher, rebellious edge.

The latest wave of pop-punk is at times, a very powerful, legitimate form of music that really does have something to say for itself. Is post-adolescent angst, confusion and feelings towards the opposite sex illegitimate? Are the high pitched, nasal voices really not to be taken seriously? Straying away from a large proportion of mainstream pop music that has little to say about anything, beyond being the product of hollywood personality type songwriters with dollar signs in their eyes, you'll find some outspoken pop-punk bands with a real sense of beliefs, community spirit, and passion. We see socio-political commentary amongst some bands, as referenced earlier in the piece. One must also consider the unity and inter-relatability of the fans. It is very much a defining part of their personality, fashion sense, and commune in the punk venues and clubs in the area, or more excitingly, set up gigs in their basements. If this isn't a legitimate social movement, then i don't know what is. Though this isn't the entire story, and with hours of research this argument could be expanded on massively, it's quite clear that pop-punk has a right to carry the name of punk, should it want to, with little opposition. Oddly, unbeknownst to me, the argument was actually settled that very evening in the bar, the moment that the loud, abrasive guy from outside birmingham pulled out this weird gem of a quote: "Margeret Thatcher.. Great woman, but I would have a glass of champagne on the day she dies". I mean, really?

Post-script: I must be emphatic on this point, with hours of research this argument could be expanded on massively and take various avenues that I haven't taken in this article. This article is simply a musing and a few thoughts on a very wide-spanning and complex argument. Thank you for reading.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Say Goodbye Good: The Conflict and Apathy of The Promise Ring

The Promise Ring - Wood/Water

At the beginning of this year, in the dying winter month of February, I re-discovered a whole movement of music that had inadvertently changed my life when I was a teenager. The bands that first turned me on to punk music - New Found Glory, Get Up Kids, and Blink 182 - were the wave of punk bands following a largely underground emo/punk scene all over Suburban America. Bad scenes and basement shows. Somehow Wisconsin band Promise Ring came out of it to record one of the defining albums of the movement in 1997 - "Nothing Feels Good" - whose title is surprisingly a play on words, suggesting a positive connotation on the album. Its roughly recorded, emotional punk songs largely about relationship woes, proved an underground success and captured the hearts of teenagers anywhere near indie/punk music.

In a tragic turn a few years later, after their largely underwhelming follow-up, "Very Emergency," singer Davey Von Bohlen was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to undergo surgery. This unsurprisingly changed the course of the band, and entirely shook up his songwriting. A few years later this resulted in an album that seemingly polarises every single person who's ever heard it. Produced by Stephen Street, which seems apt considering the melancholy songs and his history with the Smiths, the album produced totally unexpected results, and a curveball that would prove difficult for older fans to embrace.

"Wood/Water" happens to be one of my favourite discoveries in recent years. It wreaks of waning passion - a thoughtful, yet apathetic throwback to the singer's experiences in life. It is reminiscent of a moment where you are totally unsure of where you are or where you are going. His lamentations in "Stop Playing Guitar" concern his decision to keeping write songs, and him entertaining thoughts of quitting for good. It is a definite highlight, though void of a lyrical chorus, and seems to sum up his conflicted nature. "No more guitar songs, it's just nervous energy" being a standout quote from another track. Despite this, you can tell he's not going to quit - it's an expression of confusion, apathy and reminiscent of a mid-twenties crisis - and you get the feeling he knows this. On "Suffer Never," he acknowledges the worldview and mature, possibly enriched life that suffering has given him, and says that "Without it, we're not sure if we're feeling good."

The album moves at a snails pace, with lush, yet subdued melodies, and is so persistently downbeat that you wonder whether they cared at all about the listener. Though out of this comes, I'll argue, greatness. It's an honest record, and like every great collection of songs, has a singular sound and vision, which I believe is fully realised. After all the angst, passion and whining about girls (ha), they seem to have, rather logically, burned out and settled down into calm and apathy. This is captured on tape across the album, and to be honest, it's is the best way for the Promise Ring to go out - wrapping up their highly energetic, driven adolescence and early adulthood with a mild, calmed, wistful spirit, and is a testament to the growth of their band and their diversity and skill in songwriting.

Recommended: Stop Playing Guitar, Suffer Never, and Say Goodbye Good.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Manchester Orchestra Interview! - 25th March '11

I recently spoke with Chris Freeman from Manchester Orchestra, a month before kicking off their UK tour in April. We discussed their highly anticipated, upcoming album "Simple Math," their Bad Books project, and what fans can expect from their upcoming tour.

Me: You've got a new album coming out, Simple Math, May 10th, I've heard it's a concept album. Could you give us an idea of what it's about?

Chris: It's about Andy's life, between the ages of 21 and 23, when he got married - and the struggle that happened in that first year of marriage and conversations between he, his wife, and God. Pretty much anything that people would go through in that period of the early 20's. Questioning some things, experiencing new things, discovering, figuring out yourself and trying to make better decisions. That pretty much sums up what the album's about.

Me: OK, so It's not a character, story affair then. It's more life through the eyes Andy and the things he sees, and affects him.

Chris: Yeah, and musically I think it's conceptual as well. As the record goes on, I think it gets better, from the start it's very introductory, setting the scene. It begins pretty, and then it hits you in the face, and then continues to build up throughout the rest of the album.

Me: What was the writing process like this time around?

Chris: It went easily. We had way too many songs for this record and whittling it down to the 10 that ended up on the record was difficult. Probably the most difficult part of it was trying to figure out what all came together, what seemed to fit on one album - the biggest statement we could make with the stuff we had. It was very easy, very chill. We wrote with 3 different drummers, because our drummer Jeremiah left. It brought out the core of the band, the four guys, closer together, and put us on the same wavelength, which made writing more fluid, and songs like Simple Math, the single, came out of that. Us sitting in our room together and playing music - if there was something that we liked, we stuck with it. It was really nice.

Me: Was Jeremiah involved with the album at all?

Chris: No, not at all. We have our friend Tim, whose now playing with us live, who played in a band called Waking Ashland, we wanted him to be in our band. Gwen, who played drums for Colour Revolt, and our friend Ben, who is drum tech for Brand New. It was interesting to play with 3 different guys, and 3 different styles of drumming.

Me: We've heard Simple Math - which is the only full studio version off the new album that we've heard. You've chosen to release it as the first single. I'm wondering how does the album compares to that? Is it more along that vein? Do you feel it's accurate representation of the album?

Chris: I think Simple Math is a representation of the growth of the band, and our ability to quieten down a little bit, and still be, I hate using the word epic, and but it's a bit cinematic I think. It's very pretty. The strings that we intermittently put on this record, on the single, definitely shows some sort of growth. I wouldn't say it's a total representation of the album, because the songs are so different throughout the record. I think they fit together, but they're all very different songs. The thing about releasing a single beforehand is that people think that's what the entire the records about. There's going to be a lot of surprises. It jumps about a lot of different genres, a lot of different perspectives musically, from really loud, heavy stuff to the very pretty, quiet, intimate songs.

Me: Is it more produced than "Mean Everything To Nothing"? I'm hearing strings, there seems to be a lot more things going on.

Chris: I wouldn't say more produced, but I think it's more layered than "Mean Everything To Nothing". That was pretty much a live recorded album. We did those takes live. With Simple Math, we did a lot live stuff, but then did a bit of meticulous overdubs. We brought all the stuff back to our studio, and sat with the songs, did vocal stuff, and we our orchestra come in and play the arrangements on that, that definitely added a lot of direction on the songs. But the core of the songs was there. Some of the extra stuff we put on it, there's a kids choir on one song, beefed it up a little bit. It's exactly what we wanted.

Me: Do you still have those heavy moments?

Chris; Yeah, oh yeah. On one of the tracks Andy played a metal, baritone guitar. It's the heaviest guitar tone I think we've ever had. It's called "Virgin". Song 6, I believe.

Me: Are there any other songs that you can pick out and describe to me? The landmark songs on the album?

Chris: I think Mighty, which is song 2, is a kick in the face. The first song is very pretty. and then track 2 just kind of punches you immediately, and it flips the thing on it's head. It's not the same from a musical standpoint. It's not an all pretty record.

Me: How does it compare it to the other two albums you've released?

Chris: I think it's better. That's what we always try to do, be a better band and grow. It's got moments from METN and Like a Virgin. Songs like "Pensacola" - It's quite a quintessential Manchester Orchestra song, it's quite dynamic, good hooks - there's like four or five hooks within the song. I think it's better, more of the music what we like, and we got better at it.

Me: You worked with Kevin Devine last year on Bad Books. Did working with him rub off on you as a band, and hence the new album? Did it change your perspective at all?

Chris: Well, working with Kevin was awesome. We've been friends for quite a long time. It was a lot of fun. I think something that people don't really know about Kevin, is he's an amazing guitarist, some of his soloing is amazing, he can make a riff, make it sound very beautiful or very badass. That probably rubbed off a little bit - we have our first guitar solo on this new record, which sounds kinda dumb but it's pretty amazing it's a really cool moment. Kevin's a very worthy songwriter, a very meticulous, grammatical songwriter. I know it rubbed off on Andy a little bit - but I think they always talk about songwriting, they always push each other songwriting-wise. That Bad Books album is really back and forth, that put a bit of inspiration in all of us, we like being in the studio - that whole experience was really nice. Something so good came out of it. Definitely got us pumped for this new record.

Me: Were there any major influences that rubbed off on you while you were making Simple Math?

Chris: The most obvious one for us was Neil Young. In our early twenties, he kinda spoke to us at this time in our life, and we fell in love with it. Neil Young is that for us now. He's a great songwriter, we discovered records like "On The Beach" which were a huge thing for us, hearing the album and thrashing out some raw sounding songs which were sounding very pretty at the time. Good stories, and the way he constantly changes. He made an electronic record in the 80's, like, that's insane. Hearing that, and then following his career was definitely a big influence on this album.

Me: "Mean Everything To Nothing" broke you guys into the mainstream. There's a lot of hype. Do you feel any pressure? Or are you still in the same frame as mind as from day one?

Chris: We definitely have the same frame of mind. But it is really scary having these peoples jobs at your fingertips. All the people that work at our management company, all these people at Sony. It's scary that these peoples jobs depend on whether we do well. I don't think that during the writing process or the recording process that really took effect - we're too worried about creating good music, and really keep our heads out of that in the studio. Our mindset is always just to make records that we like. If we don't like it, then we won't record it, then we'll just try harder next time. We stick with that, and hope it goes well. We're very proud of the music that we make and that's the only important thing. We've been working on this record so long, and if suddenly everyone hates it and we were fooling ourselves.. well hopefully that's not the case! That's the kind of anxiety that we do have at times.. If we don't put good things out on the record, then I'll look like an asshole! (laughs)

Me: I was asking about Bad Books earlier. Are there any plans to do that again with Kevin?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, we talked about it a couple of times. It was such a great experience, and that's a part of our job we really love. Touring is definitely the by-product that what we have to do in order to make records - we enjoy playing live shows, but we definitely try, most enjoy getting in the studio, work with people create something. We definitely have some plans to make another Bad Books album, and other a lot of other projects swell.

Me: Are you planning any full UK tours soon? Because you're only hitting two places this time.

Chris: It's because we're doing a little press when we're over there. I feel like this trip is about getting a bit more of a push with this album cycle, with Simple Math. We'll definitely come back to the UK for a full tour once the album is out.

Me: What do you find your response in the UK to be like?

Chris: Pretty positive overall. We've done all kinds of tours over there. From a headlining tour, to opening for the Kings (of Leon) and doing the Biffy Clyro tour. I think we've had a good reaction from every different reaction from every crowd. I think the thing about the fans is that they're very - if they like you they like you. The diehards fans are like, if they like it, they'll latch on to you - there's a lot of passion. That's why I enjoy playing over there.. I'm not so keen on the food! (laughs). It's just not that good! I've actually been craving an English breakfast for the past few weeks though, so I'm very excited to get over there and get a proper English breakfast. We try to make our own version here, but it's just not working as well. I'm excited to go over there and playing for people with a lot of passion. We haven't been on tour for a little while, I think being one of the first things we do off the bat, it's going to be very inspiring for the rest of the tours that we do this year.

Me: What can fans who come to see you on the UK dates, in April, expect?

Chris: Definitely new songs. We're dabbling with very old songs that we've never played live. Songs that we haven't played since we wrote "Like a Virgin", even songs that were even on unreleased albums, that are favourites of ours that we just never took this far, embarrassingly never had time to learn. Hopefully we'll sit down and learn those songs. A lot of different stuff. The new ones, old ones, some in the middle - we'll be playing the hits.. (laughs). So lame to say. And hopefully we'll be good at them!

Manchester Orchestra are playing the Ruby Lounge in Manchester on April 16th.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Chase and Status Interview

I recently spoke on the phone with Will Kennard from Chase and Status to discuss their upcoming album "No More Idols" and recent collaborations with Tempa T, Plan B and Cee Lo Green.

Interviewer: You've got a new album coming out end of January called "No More Idols". You guys have always been one to blend genres and crossover, what influences and styles have you got planned for the new album?

Will: Gosh, lots of different sorts of influences really. It's quite a varied album, there's some quite extreme different styles of music, from tracks we've done with Plan B to the group White Lies, or a singer called Claire Maguire… From really deep, wanting vocals to tracks like "No Problem" which is like drum n bass tear out, and tracks like "Hypest Hype" which is rock infused, grime meets dubstep meets… god knows really (laughs). There's just so many different sounds on the album, there's hip hop as well, raw sounding hip hop with Tinie Tempah. I hope it all works on the same album and makes some kind of sense (laughs).

Interview: You've just released Hypest Hype with Tempa T, what's the response been like so far?

Will: Incredible. It wasn't an official release because it was a free download but it got on the A list on Radio 1 and was one of the most played records on there in the last few weeks. The response has been unbelievable, from Chris Moyles playing it at 7 in the morning… which we thought was quite hilarious, but yeah it's turned into a bit of a beast really, it's become a real highlight in the live show. We've been bringing Tempa T around with us, and he's phenomenal, his energy is just unlike anyone. So it's really exciting, really amazed how big it's become.

Interview: Are there any tracks that really stand out, for you, off the new album?

Will: We're quite excited about a track we did with Cee Loo Green, who's obvious recently had a worldwide no.1 with "Forget You".. We've done a track with him, which is not what people will know from him, it's hardcore, pretty grimy and punky sounding, really excited to see what people think about that. A track we did with Tinie Tempah we're really excited about, "No One Knows", it's not really typical of what he's been doing at the moment, that's sort of what we're all about really. There are so many, the White Lies track I'm really proud of, the Claire Maguire track, and the new Plan B song on there that no one's heard with Rage on it, from our band. Proud of it all really, hopefully people will be feeling it too.

Interview: Is the new Plan B track similar to "End Credits"? You released that a year or two ago, and have kept it on the new album?

Will: Yeah that's right, it was released a while back, but then we took a while getting our album finished. We felt it was a nice way to, at the end of the album… it felt sort of important to add to this collection of work, it was done at the start of a new era for us, and it sort of ended with the finishing of this album. The new track with Plan B, it's got a drum n bass vibe about it, it's a little a bit harder than "End Credits", it's quite similar but has a punky feel, and we're hoping it'll go down well in the live show.

Interview: What was it like working with Plan B? Do you guys just vibe in the studio or have him in mind when you produce a track?

Will: Well, our history goes back to when we remixed a track off his first album called "No Good". It's a natural relationship, we know each other so well now. We toured around with him a lot, we're always throwing ideas around, and in the studio he's obviously such a creative guy to work with, coming up with hundreds of ideas, and it's about channelling some of those ideas into what we want to do. It's very natural and very easy, it's just hard pinning him down now because he's so busy and successful now, so keeping it rapid is our goal.

Interview: You have a new single "Blind Faith" coming out soon...

Will: Yeah, that's coming out a week before the album, on the 26th January. It's featuring Liam Bailey who's gonna be a massive name next year. It's a really cool track, we wanted to do something that had inspiration from early rave, rave culture, and an almost hardcore vibe but with a modern twist. We do it in live shows towards the end of the set and that takes a break from people moshing out and kicking the crap out of each other! Yeah it's just a really nice moment, and we hope people like it!