It’s Friday afternoon at SXSW and down at the Velvet Spade on Red River St, Island Records have put on a label showcase as a bit of an excuse to throw a tasty barbecue and neck margaritas. Rocking the stage to its foundations so early in the day is the blistering rock of Nine Black Alps, the boisterous blues-punk of The Fratellis and… the tender soft-rock harmonies of The Feeling? What’s going on here? Clash decided to get up close with the band it’s okay for your mum to like too and found out that it’s not easy being Easy…
Well, here we all are at SXSW – what have you been up to?
Dan: Drinking margaritas mostly. Yesterday we were just jet-lagged the whole day. It was a nightmarish journey.
This is your first time at SXSW – have you done America before?
The indie snobs don’t really like us very much. I think they don’t like us because they hate people that sell records.
Richard: Not gigs, no. We’ve been out to New York together but this is our first gig in America.
Let’s briefly outline the history of the band – three of you went to the same school, right?
Richard: Yeah, the Jeremiahs [Kevin-guitar, Ciaran-keyboards] and Paul, our drummer.
Were you in bands at school?
Ciaran: Yeah, us two used to play at all the music evening for the mums and dads. That’s where our rock and roll life began. The rest of the guys went to college together.
It was music college you attended. What did you learn there?
Dan: It’s such a stupid idea music college, isn’t it? You can’t teach music. It was a nice place to meet other musicians though. That was why it was cool, cos I met these guys.
Richard: And they let you go and do gigs and don’t tell you off. It’s not academic and the actual qualification means virtually nothing.
Dan: But yeah, the ability to have rehearsal rooms to use and just go and play and jam for hours as part of your course is great.
Then you apparently saw an advert looking for bands to play in the Alps?
Dan: Yeah that's right, we saw an advert. We were all doing different things that kind of essentially fell through roughly at the same time. There was an advert in the paper saying you could go and play loads of gigs with free accommodation, free food, free booze, free snowboarding…
It was playing covers there when you discovered your own sound, and you compare those days to the Beatles’ time in Hamburg.
Dan: Well I suppose so; I don’t know if it will turn out exactly the same as that…
It’s early days yet – don’t put yourself down!
Dan: It’s just a bit presumptuous comparing yourself to The Beatles.
Richard: I think the similarity is that back then, a lot of bands would earn their stripes by going and doing something like that…
Dan: Just playing classic rock and roll or popular covers…
Richard: Bands in the Sixties would start with an album of covers and that’s how they would learn their craft.
Dan: The Stones did it. That’s something that doesn’t really happen nowadays. You’re supposed to be doing your own thing the whole time.
Richard: A lot of bands, they’ll get into a garage, jam something, write a pretty good song, and they’ll be signed within six months. And that could be the death of them because they’re just not ready, and they’re dropped within one or two albums because they haven’t had the training. I hope that won’t happen to us. I think this is the best time for us.
Watching you live earlier I noticed there was perhaps a modern kind of French sound to your music, a bit like Phoenix. Did the country influence you at all?
Richard: Well when we were in France all they played on the radio was Supertramp. We all knew Supertramp a bit from when we were younger, but that sort of went into our brains, that and whatever else was French on the radio.
Dan: There’s something slightly sophisticated, slightly intelligent about it, even thought it’s still pop, still quite naff, but in a kind of knowing way, which I think suited us.
So what songs were you playing?
Dan: Anything, whatever got them going. And also whatever we wanted to play. We worked out quite early on that trying to play whatever you thought was gonna make a crowd go off doesn’t work. Playing music that makes you happy always gets the crowd up much better. So we just played what we wanted, we just played our favourite pop songs.
You have to do what you want to do, you have to stick to your guns and take the risk.
What kind of qualities did you like about the music you heard from Supertramp and that kind of thing?
Dan: Nothing else sounded like it. We all listened to The Beatles and the Beach Boys loads, and The Kinks and classic British rock and things like that, but if your influences are just like that, you end up sounding like that. I suppose those guys were the next generation on from The Beatles. Heavily influenced by The Beatles but taking it to a different level, taking it to a different place; not as pure rock ‘n’ roll, a bit cheesier, a bit more muso-y, a bit more synthy… 10CC and bands like that were slightly more muso-y versions of them. We like all that kind of thing. We’re slightly nerdy musos at heart, and that sound has allowed us to be as musical as we want. As long as you’re not scared of being a bit cheesy then you can do that, you can get away with it, as long as it’s genuine.
So what’s the report on the album - is it all ready to go?
Dan: Yeah, it’s been recorded. A lot of it is our original demos…
That must have saved you a bit of money?
Dan: It saved us a lot of money! They were a bit more free and a bit more real because I’d just written the song and then recorded it. There’s something very different about just writing a song and then going in to record it straightaway when it’s new to you and still exciting to you.
Where were the demos recorded? I heard something about a garden shed?
Dan: Well Kevin and Ciaran’s parents have a house down in Sussex and they have an out-house down there - it’s basically a shed. It’s got a tin roof and we stuck a load of mattresses in the ceiling and up in the tin roof to deaden the sound a bit and we recorded it down there. We used to spend a week at a time down there doing a mixture of recording stuff, just putting it down, and jamming new ideas and writing new songs. It was just a great time in the summer, hanging out, and I think it comes across on the record.
When’s the album going to be released?
Dan: Not until June. We’re still mixing it. The longest part of it hasn’t been recording it; it’s been mixing it. We’re so precious about the way it sounds. We never wanted to have one of these UK grungey lo-fi sounding records; it doesn’t interest us. There was a point in the early ’80s when recording bands got to such a high point. They made such perfect records. Albums like ‘The Wall’ are so precisely, beautifully recorded and we wanted to sound… not expensive; we like expensive sounding records, we like beautifully recorded records. So it’s made the mixing process a bit harder, because it’s hard finding people nowadays who can make a record like that. Everyone in the UK, they’re very good at making heavy records or spiky, angular guitar records, where it sounds like it was recorded in a shed. We’re like, ‘We recorded it in a shed but we don’t want it to sound like it was recorded in a shed. We want it to sound like it was recorded well’.
How is your confidence as a frontman and as a songwriter?
Dan: Well my confidence as a songwriter has just grown over the last few years because people have recognised it. I got my confidence as a frontman working in the Alps. That’s the first time I ever sang in front of anyone except for doing backing vocals. I was always just the guitarist - I was a session guitarist who could sing. When we went to the Alps, which was like five years ago now, we needed to have a lead singer and no one else wanted to do it so I did it. I started to love it, started to think, ‘I can do this’. You can do it and be yourself and do it, which is another lesson I learnt from the Alps. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing covers, doesn’t matter what you’re doing, the same rules apply: you have to be yourself. You have to be enjoying it and you have to do what you want to do, you have to stick to your guns and take the risk.
We’re hearing ‘Sewn’ everywhere at the moment; it’s all over the radio. Are you surprised at its success?
Dan: For that single I’m surprised actually. We thought it was a bit of a grower. I mean, it’s got hooks in it but it’s not a traditional standard song, is it? It’s not like a hit-’em-with-a-chorus-straightaway kind of number.
What do you attribute its success to?
Dan: It’s heartfelt and I think, I know it’s an awful cliché, but it’s quite an honest song and I don’t think it’s very self-conscious. I think a lot of music on the radio is quite hard, it’s quite aggressive. Whether it’s sexually aggressive like a lot of hip-hop or rap, whether it’s Pussycat Dolls going on about their vaginas or whether it’s spiky, quirky rock that’s quite testosterone driven. It’s either that or it’s whingey girl music that sounds like something out of some focus group meeting. There’s no one just doing something that’s male orientated; like, we’re a bunch of guys but it’s quite feminine almost. It’s not hard but it’s not soppy. It’s like trying to get that line; trying to sing something that comes from the heart without making people want to vomit. I think we got it on that record. We were just really straightforward lyrically and made it very truthful and honest and I think that that’s what people have latched onto.
Have there been any negative reactions to what you’ve been doing or playing?
Dan: When we released ‘Sewn’ there was a bit of a negative reaction because it’s one of the more mid-tempo ballady type numbers and I think a lot of people were a bit scared that we were just gonna be a bit like Keane or gonna be like Coldplay, and there’s a lot of hate for those kind of bands in the indie fraternity. The indie snobs don’t really like us very much. I think they don’t like us because they hate people that sell records. It’s a bit like you’re not daring or not cool, but I think writing pop music is more daring than writing avant-garde trendy haircut music because you take more risks. You HAVE to take more risks in pop music; you have to be prepared to be seen as cheesy or you have to be prepared to be seen as middle of the road. You have to be not scared of that. So you get a lot more criticism for being more mainstream than you do for being avant-garde and left, and so we’ve actually had a bit of criticism for it, but I don’t care. I don’t do it for them. I write songs that I like, that I want to hear and there’s fuck loads of people out there who’ve got the same attitude that I have. I don’t care about the haircut, I don’t care about the skinny jeans, I don’t care about the way it looks or what part of the scene it’s from. I don’t care about that; I care about good pop songs.