Glasvegas interview

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It would be fair to say that the way music hype works is changing. The turnover of hype bands was astonishingly high not long ago, but all of a sudden the landscape has changed and the people in the know are now putting all of their eggs in one basket.

This year, undoubtedly, the basket belonged to Glasvegas. Late last year their signature track Daddy’s Gone crash-landed into NME’s tracks of the year list at number 2, and since then the Glaswegian four piece haven’t looked back, despite the slight hiccup of missing out on a number one album to Metallica.

Not that the band expected it in the slightest. Guitarist Rab Allen says: “We were delighted with number two. Metallica are one of the biggest bands in the world, we knew we weren’t going to beat them.”

Since the album release Glasvegas have played practically every night to increasing levels of devotion from their followers. Indeed, they’ve hardly been off the road for the last few months. Rab explains: “We’ll be touring for about a year. We’ve had two weeks at home since last November.”

The band have developed an almost gimmick of never being seen in any colour than black, with singer James Allan recently taking to wearing sunglasses relentlessly. But Rab says that there’s a less interesting reason for the lack of colour in the band’s wardrobe, “It’s just easier for when we go on tour, for washing! You open the suitcase and it’s all black.”

It lends itself to a startling spectacle in the band’s live show. White light batters your eyes, with the only thing you can see being four near-static figures on the stage, totally lost in the music. It’s a nigh-on religious experience.

Rab adds: “Grown men are singing the songs back at us crying. The music is quite emotional for some people, especially lyrically.”

Glasvegas live is a incredible experience. Rarely is there a second’s respite from the aural blast, emotion pouring from the band into the crowd and back again. When we see the band, in a tiny room in Manchester, it almost, almost brings a tear to our eye. And we’re very, very tough. We ask if the smaller shows are a better way to see the band live.

“We’ve done some massive gigs that have been incredible. We played Brixton [Academy] and the sound was amazing. Anything indoors is good.”

One of the most note-worthy things about the band is that they don’t shy away from dark themes in their output. The album covers, death, divorce, loss, stabbings and desperation, often in the same song.

“James is very good at putting himself in the shoes of other people”, says Rab. “The events in the songs aren’t necessarily things that have happened to us, but things he’s heard about.”

Glasgow is the rough sibling of cultured Edinburgh, more known for council estates and social deprivation, and it is this background that frames the background for the band’s work.

But despite all the critical praise Glasvegas still, to be cliché-tastic, keep it real. The band likes to stay as down-to-earth as possible, employing the now famous Geraldine [the former social worker from the band’s breakthrough hit, er, Geraldine] on the merchandise stall.

But with the world seemingly at their feet, Rab discloses to us that there may not be another Glasvegas album after their upcoming Christmas album, which the band recorded in a Transylvanian church.

“It [the Christmas album] was something James has always wanted to do. But if we don’t feel the material is better than what we’ve already done, we won’t release it,” states Rab plaintively.

DN is gobsmacked. But with James, the band’s chief songwriter, churning out new songs as regularly as clockwork, and the band’s ambition lying somewhere in the stars, the name of Glasvegas is certain to be a familiar one for years to come.

[This feature was written for Degrees North]

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The Subways interview

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It’s three years since teenagers Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper and Josh Morgan released their debut album as The Subways.

Back in 2003 the trio broke out of Harlow, Essex, after John Peel played one of their early songs, and they won a competition to play at Glastonbury festival. But after the success of ‘Young for Eternity’, the next step of their career would be fraught with peril and the future of the band was brought into question .

Billy suffered problems with his voice and had to have surgery, leaving him unable to speak for two weeks and banned from singing by doctors for six weeks. “I was worried for my future, I was worried for my life!” says Billy, reflecting on the tough period.

Then the band lost someone part of the Subways family, their A&R man, the man that had helped them get their record contract and remained a friend of the band through their fledgling career.

And as if all this trauma wasn’t enough for the band to cope with, Billy and Charlotte, who had been a couple for the entire lifespan of the band, split up. But incredibly they seem as close as ever. The sexual tension once present at their live shows may have fizzled but they’ve remained great friends – they had to to keep the band alive.

The pair are as you would expect from their on-stage personas. Billy is passionate, excitable, fidgety and full of perfect soundbites, Charlotte more reserved and thoughtful. It is this balance that frames their writing process and gives the band their shape.

But when asked about their influences, the answer is surprising. Alongside obvious choices like Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana and Biffy Clyro, names like Johnny Cash, Neil Young, The Carpenters and Bob Dylanare mentioned. “Mary’s the perfect combination between Oasis and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles”, states Billy.

And when I ask about current music the pair are enthusiastic about Future of the Left, and surprisingly, The Enemy. But when prodded about the current indie scene Billy is typically forthright, “There are good bands, and there are shit bands with a little bit of grey in between. Obviously Scouting For Girls and The Hoosiers are just shit”.

“I’d rather watch a bad band than a band that’s just completely boring” counters Charlotte.

So then, the album. ‘All or Nothing’ splutters along at a million miles an hour, a sign of the desperation they felt to get the record made and out there after such a long wait. The album title itself points to the situation the band found themselves in. It literally was, as cheesy as it sounds, all or nothing for the band.

And they seem to have pulled it off. The live show is as frenetic as ever – “These songs from ‘All or Nothing’ are made to be played live” – claims Billy, and you believe him. The riffs are thicker, and drum rolls pounded even harder, the vocals screamed louder than ever, the crowd going as mental for the new tracks like ‘Alright’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ just as much as the classics ‘With You’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen’, which closes tonight’s set,.

And the lyrics have moved away from the tales of small town life from their debut album. “I just wrote lyrics that I felt compelled to say, that I felt I had to say, more analytical, more observant, because we’re growing up, we’re seeing the world” says Billy.

But the band still feel they have places to go. Billy is open about his desire to write what he describes as a ‘megahit’, citing ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Everlong’ as the kind of musical legacy they want to leave. “We have an obligation to sing out to the world. Fucking hell, I sound like Bono, how sucky is that!” says Billy.

But despite all the Big Statements, the band are just three young people having the time of their lives. “We’re used to having to prove ourselves and being the underdog. I don’t think people realise how astonished we are that people still come to the shows” half-jokes Billy.

But while The Subways are still writing the big choruses, still giving crowds a great time and generally being one of Britain’s best young rock bands, the fanbase will keep on growing. Let’s hope, for their sake, that the third album is a bit more straightforward.

[This feature was written for Degrees North]

The Automatic interview

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Not many bands had more of an eventful start than The Automatic. Formed in their native Wales ten years ago, it took until 2006 to release their debut album, ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’. From that album came the ubiquitous ‘Monster’ and fellow smash hits ‘Raoul’ and ‘Recover’, quickly followed by the trashing of the GMTV studio during a ‘live’ performance and the departure of the charismatic Alex Pennie. I caught up with the band’s drummer Iwan Griffiths to see how the change in line-up was affecting the band’s dynamic.

The band hired Yourcodenameis:milo’s Paul Mullen to complete their line up, before recording in LA with Don Gilmore in September last year. Griffiths explains that they intended to record the album all in one go, but that, in the end, the process turned out much the same as when they recorded their debut, with the recording process spread out over a number of months with different producers, including Butch Walker.

Griffiths said: “It took a long time to record, which gave us more chance to try new things, different instruments, different ways of recording. It’s fun to play live, we can properly go for it.”

And Griffiths is frank about the change in the band’s dynamic with keyboardist Pennie leaving the band, “Pennie had good ideas, but wasn’t able to say what he meant in musical terms. Paul has amazing ideas. Paul is more musically minded. Pennie was a dominating presence. Now, there’s not just focus on one individual, there’s more focus on the band.”

The band’s return was through the rollicking ‘Steve McQueen’, a balls out rocker that does its best to hide the troubles at the heart of the band. The message is clear: The Automatic are a different band now.

But Griffiths claims it wasn’t a conscious decision for the band to abandon their catchy, poppy roots: “There was no definite decision, we just wrote the music. The first album, we were too consciously trying to write a ‘Monster’.”

The white elephant is present throughout our conversation, alluded to but hardly mentioned by name. The outsider would naturally assume the band would be sick to death of hearing about their ‘Creep’ but the reality is far from it. They take great pride in having written such a big hit and Griffiths claims they still enjoy playing it live, although they “mess around and try and do something different with it.”

I bring up the subject of indie’s sudden omnipresence within the industry and the fact that there are dozens of bands making identical music and Griffiths is quick to agree: “The Kooks and One Night Only are the same band to me.” Griffiths also points to the emergence of oodles of Libertines rip-off bands, what he calls ‘Mockney’. But, strangely, he has nothing but praise for a band that has roundly been criticised for wearing their influences far too clearly on their sleeves.

“The Enemy are different from that whole thing,” he claims. Obviously not a Jam fan then. At one point, he also compares his own band to compatriots Manic Street Preachers and, at this point, my colleague in the DN office is struggling to fight fits of laughter.

I quickly change the subject to their treatment from the NME, who originally lauded the band and even booked them as headliners on the 2006 Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot tour, but quickly turned on the band, dropping in cheap shots whenever they got the chance. It’s a cheap trick, and one the magazine is guilty of more and more often, lately.

“It did at first get the band down, it gets a bit personal. It’s just a bit low. They said that when we die people would cheer. It’s a bit uncalled for. We’re not a Mugabe regime.”

Despite all of this, the band are probably best known for destroying the GMTV set, during a mimed performance. Griffiths explains that the band were still feeling it from a long drinking session the night before and had been duped into doing the show, but claims that it wasn’t pre-meditated. “We didn’t go in planning it, but it ended up happening.”

The interview ends with Griffiths’ assertion that “this is the album we wanted to write compared with the first album. There were doubts from the first album. This is the sound we wanted.” How the public reacts remains to be seen.

The Automatic’s second album ‘This Is A Fix’ is out now on B-Unique Records.

[This feature was originally published in Degrees North]