Liverpool band venture north

It seems quite fitting to have Rockness in the Highlands of Scotland….where a red squirrel hops across the A9 as I travel up (honestly) and Nessie herself slumbers in the loch next door (no, I didn’t quite catch her). This is the place for the rare and wonderful, the magical beings the mechanics of the world want to make extinct.

It’s inspiring just to see smiling people dancing like no one’s watching in the field, mad-capped men rolling down the hill to the main stage, open to the mountains and fiery Scottish skies of arguably the finest and most fertile land now on the planet, the untouchable home of the true. If red squirrels and Nessie are safe here, so are good music and passionate people as this year’s Rockness proved.

SOUNDS OF GUNS

Sounds of Guns once found themselves surrounded by armed police after a gig in Wakefield. Apparently, police intelligence had led to a misunderstanding that they were a ferocious Liverpudlian gun-toting gang out to wreak havoc in West Yorkshire. Well, maybe the havoc was correct even if the gun part wasn’t. The Liverpool-based band only released their debut album ‘What Came From Fire’ a year ago and have just today got the masters back for their second album. Andy Metclafe (vocals and lyricist), Lee Glynn and Nathan Crowley (guitars), John Coley (bass) and Simon Finley (drums) emerge from a ten hour van journey to the open Highland airs. An unstoppable band with boss anthemic tunes and a work ethic to rival the entire continent of India, they speak about how a tough start set them off on the right track.

John Coley: ‘Rockness is the most north we’ve ever played. We’ve been buying Glen Fydden whiskey at each service station on the way up but we’re still going.’

Andy: ‘I’m a bit tired but excited to be here.’

HOW DID YOU GET TOGETHER?

Andy: ‘We got together two years ago and started using our local social club, Churchills, on Penny Lane in Liverpool. We’d been rehearsing and recording for two months and had a hundred songs. One day, we came along and it had all been burnt down. That was it. All our gear, one hundred songs, a piano…We were really angry at first. It slowly dawned on us over a period of ten days. We then got like ‘You know what? Fuck this.’ We had demos recorded and jumped into a rehearsal suite. We lent loads of gear off our mates – they were brilliant – bass, amp and carried on working on the first album. We got over it very quickly by just dealing with it. We hadn’t even done one gig when that happened.’

John Coley: ‘We regrouped and just moved down the road. The actual artwork on the album – us stood on the ashes of the club – meant loads to us as it represented what that whole album was about, from start to finish. We always want to do that – associate our artwork with the music, what it means to us at the time.’

Andy: ‘For this next album, it’s light years away! We were recording our second album in Bath and there’s this tree two thousand years old. Just think – Jesus was born and that seed started germinating.’

Coley: ‘There’s even this face in the tree. It’s weird – not much plumage, just a massive trunk. But it also links in with the lyrics for the second album.’

Coley: ‘We didn’t gig til we knew we were ready. We knew how Liverpoool crowds are – very tough. So we went to London first, played a few gigs and then did Liverpool on the Friday. We feel the biggest mistake is not having enough quality songs. That’s not a gig–playing a few songs you’ve written to a crowd.’

Andy: ‘There needs to be enough diversity and you need to play to the crowd. You’ve got to have the drop.’

Coley: ‘But you’ve also got to surprise them, set ‘em off. Challenge them.’

Andy: ‘Aw, he’s having a sly dig there about the setlist for tomorrow. I want to do a full-on rock –out set and he wants to throw a curve ball!’

HOW DID YOU GET SIGNED?

Andy: ‘We’d been gigging a few weeks and had a major record label frenzy over us.’

Coley:’ But we didn’t want to get our teeth done.’

I laugh. But he’s serious.

Andy: ‘I had some fierce words over some of their conditions.’

Coley: ‘Or be styled over Conditions, conditions. We basically wanted to go with a label who’d let us be ourselves. Distiller Records are the one label who do just that. I know bands who have been told that they have to be styled.’

Andy: ‘I think it affects your integrity and undermines you as an artist. True, it means you will lose some ‘would-be’ fans as popular culture is all about being perfect. But we’re artists, fighting against those ideas.’

Andy: ‘It’s about what’s real for us and that is the original idea. Keep to our original ideas and try to be successful. You’ve got
to have a direction. Otherwise you just get wankered all over.’

SO HOW COME YOU DIDN’T CHOOSE A PRODUCER FOR THE FIRST ALBUM?

Andy: ‘All the production for ‘What Comes From Fire’ we did ourselves. We wanted to.’

A proper DIY band then.

Coley: ‘As soon as you open yourself up to someone else, you’ve lost that song. And, right at the start, our songs were all we had so we wanted to record them our way. We could’ve spent our advance on some wanker to come in and put his name on an album that didn’t even represent us properly. Instead, we chose to buy all the gear and do it ourselves and get someone in to mix it.’

Andy: ‘It’s like the thing that people like about us was the sound we’d got before the album so why change that for the recording? That first album we recorded last January and it came out June 2010. Then we toured with The View til 19th April this year. The very next day after that tour ended, 20th April, we were back in the studio recording and had the second album done in three weeks. We just worked eighteen hour days. This time we did bring in a producer because we wanted to maximize our sound – Dave Eringa (Manic Street Preachers, Ocean Colour Scene) and came to Bath. We had to stay in this old couple’s cottage. We called it Grandma Death’s cottage off Donnie Darko. She was lovely though – about 90 years old. She opened the door to us and was like, ‘Oh I thought you were on business from London.’

Coley: ‘And there she finds five dirty scousers who leave her house at 10am and get in at 5am. She actually dug five graves for us all. We’d come in to her house full of antiques and start to plug things in which didn’t need plugs…’

Andy: ‘Or put things in the fireplace that shouldn’t be there – half a tv, Coley?’

Coley: ‘Well…’

Andy: ‘I rewired the kitchen as I put plugs on the wrong things.’

Oh, that’s nice of you. Are you a qualified electrician?

Andy: ‘Er no…’

You’ve probably electrocuted them or burnt their house down.

Andy: ‘Probably. But every morning she’d leave out a jug of off milk. We got a jug of off milk every day for three weeks.’

That’s probably what helped you record the album in such short time.

Andy: ‘Probably. To get out of there!’

Coley: ‘I loved being in the studio, The Distillery, in Bath. On stage, you’ve got just half an hour to blow someone away whereas in the studio you’ve got eighteen hours of focused mood and sound.’

Andy: ‘It’s not just about the drums, guitar and vocals. It’s the vibe – bringing in from where we are. One of the tracks, The Leaning, we recorded half of it outside.’

Very Lee Mavers-ish.

Andy: ‘Yeah! But it sounds unbelievable.’

Coley: ‘I recorded the whole bassline in the field.’

Andy: ‘It’s about texture, capturing what we’re about. As good as our first album was, it’s all about moods on this one. On one song, my voice is going but I left it in because the song is about me being tired. It’s the emotion and thought we want to contain and emphasise. We always want to record the sounds of where we are.’

Coley: ‘There’s ten tracks on this album but they could have been fifty. We took thirty seven songs but Dave was like ‘Yeah, but they’re all great. Just pick ten.’ We had a day of getting pissed and choosing three singles.’

HOW DID YOU GET TO TOUR WITH THE VIEW?

Coley: ‘We did a small show in London, playing to European promoters and The View came down. They loved us and have been fantastic, letting us tour with them which was a great experience. Dundee and Liverpool are almost the same city – we have the same mentality.’

Andy: ‘We’ve played King Tuts in Glasgow six times now and that’s definitely been helped by touring with The View. The last show we did on our own was sold out ‘

Coley: ‘When we first played The Barrowlands, the lads warned us to clingfilm our guitars. ‘If they like you in Glasgow, they’ll throw drinks at you. Too right. I got a J and D at my bass. When we tour, we always want to have the best, top quality support acts. If punters are paying twelve quid a ticket, they deserve boss bands.’

Having heard ‘The Leaning’, I mention the similarity between it and Echo and the Bunnymen’s songs. Andy laughs.

Andy: ‘Mac – Ian McCulloch – is actually a mate of mine. He calls me Harry because I come from a place called Secombe…’

(_Harry Secombe – a plump warbler who wore nylon polo necks; my mum had his LP. I can see very few resemblances_).

‘Our drummer was with Echo and The Bunnymen for two years. We told him to make a choice – pick the best singer and songwriter…so he stayed with the Bunnymen for another two years! No. I wrote The Leaning on acoustic. Then the band got hold of the song. They saw something in it and blew it up. That’s the wonderful enigma of being in a band. It transforms everything.’

Coley: ‘If there was anyone else in the band, it wouldn’t be Sounds of Guns. We have our strengths and weaknesses. If you’ve got a weakness, that’s someone else’s strength. We know each other’s. Si and Andy were previously in a band together and me, Nathan and Lee were too.’

Andy: ‘It’s pretty intense at times. We’re all in a van, you’re sitting next to someone who’s just had ten cans of Stella thinking ‘I’ll knock you out in a minute.’We love each other – five lads who don’t actually know each other that well but are committed and put together. We’re still finding our feet. I spend more time with these than with my own kids.’

I mention the almost palpable soundscapes of their music with a reality and density now missing from today’s synthetic homogenised computer-generated sounds. You can almost see the desolate emotional scenes they portray in their music, places where new anti-heroes are born.

Coley: ‘As far as we’re concerned, we are on the dole and didn’t want to be on the dole. ‘

Andy: ‘There’s a lot of kids in Liverpool who do want to make it in music. But it doesn’t happen. I decided a few years back I was just going to be honest. And I really credit it for the reason why we were signed within six months. The general public truly can taste the difference between hype and truth. They don’t like bullshit and turn from it.’

Coley: ‘There’s a difference between singing a line people can hear and singing a line you truly feel. We want to do the latter.’

Andy: ‘Where do you stand when you’ve got a million opinions? Everyone thinks they are right. Celebrities are riding a wave but it’ll crash and the truth always rises in the end. People of Liverpool wear their heart on their sleeve and we kind of do – particularly with this second album. Lyrically, it was more of a struggle than the first album, re-writing every song five times and really trying to be honest. If something didn’t feel right, a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I’, I’d go back over it. There are a couple of songs on there we had from the first album session but we’ve reworked them the honest way so they belong on this album. There’s a lot of irony in there too.’

I can vouch for this. Hearing ‘Sometimes’ as an acoustic with Lee and Nathan’s harmonies, it’s a gutwrencher, a strident desperate wail of a bleak world where ‘violence is silence’ and the forced acceptance of an ever-narrowing world. They lyrics come from somewhere ripped apart.

‘That’s the irony. The band somehow took something I wrote from a dark place and turned it into something triumphant. It’s weird. I couldn’t have done it by myself,’ admits Andy. ‘We wanted that – we wanted real true content, not the quick melodic fix, over-stylised songs currently doing the rounds. They just leave you feeling hollow. My twenty one year old brother died last year of a drugs overdose in Aberdeen and I was looking for a song about a brother. This band Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros kept coming up when I googled ‘Brother’. They’re from America and an authentic band – the kind we aspire to be.’

Coley: ‘We’ve got literally hundreds of songs and we’re all involved in the writing in some way.’

Andy: ‘It’s dead exciting just to write songs. We’ve nothing else to do. The other week we had to spend ten hours prior to our gig in a Glasgow Travel Lodge and it was pissing it down. I fell asleep and dreamt we’d written a really crap song called ‘Glasgow Rain’ but it was very popular and in the charts. I think it was a nightmare actually as we also had to keep playing it live! I don’t think that would ever happen. Bizarrely, we all respect each other’s opinion.’

Coley: ‘Annoyingly at times.’

Andy: ‘Yet somehow despite our differences, all the ideas fit together. We never agree but we all agree on the final result.’

Coley: ‘There’s no room for egos in the band.’

I ask them why they don’t do the harmonies they do in acoustics and on record live.

Andy: ‘There’s no harmonies live as we can’t anticipate what the sound will be like on stage. What we hear on stage is what you get. You need to hear the vocals and drums.’

Andy: ‘We see albums as a snapshot of where we are at the time. There’s so many more songs. For the third album, we’ll have new songs so it’s a fact that there are songs we’ll never be able to record.’

SO WHAT’S THE MASTER PLAN?

Coley: ‘Keep it simple. Do the best songs you can, the best shows you can. We’re just bricklayers, laying the path down.’

Andy:’ And if that leads to The Hills then so be it!’

Having made it successfully to the Highlands maybe they can raise their ambitions a bit…

Words by Jaime Scrivener
Photos by Steven Brown (@sbrownphoto) and Colin 'TwoThumbsFresh' McQuillen (@TwoThumbsFresh)
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