Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Sailors were BAD ASS. And when I say WERE, I really mean it! They may have recently called it a day (for it is true!), but a little LESS recently I interviewed the Leeds/Newcastle crossbreed for a 'real life' fanzine that will never see the light of day! Sailors were more than just the victims of my 'zine making whimsy however, and I think their recent Gringo 7" says it all my friends! Four spunky tunes for your delictation, and how!!!
Back when I used to put on gigs at Bardens, I got these guys down to play a show, and, even through the sweaty drunken malaise that WAS MY LIFE at this point, I could sense an unproportional sexual energy bouncing off the band when they hammered it home. Anyone who caught them over the last three years would agree I am sure.
Anyway, here it is! Sorry my questions aren't great as always, I struggle with these sort of things it's true:
Talk me through sailors up to the Gringo seven inch
Jon: In December 2003 I was living in Leeds and needed a lift up to Newcastle to see The Ex. My friend Adam (Paper Cut Out) told me he had two friends who’d just moved to Leeds from Newcastle and they’d be driving up for it. So I blagged myself a lift, we hit it off, and had a great night at the gig (seeing The Ex and Red Monkey was quite a formative experience for Sailors I suppose).
I remembered Sophie saying in the car that she was buying a drumkit, so I emailed her after Christmas and suggested getting together. Hugues bought a bass and the three of us spent pretty much all of 2004 writing songs and, really, learning to play. Sophie and Hugues were fairly new to their instruments and, although I had actually had a guitar for a few years I was pretty ropey.
Nick: At the end of 2004, my friend and I had just started a band that I was playing guitar in, so we organised our first gig at the house she lived in with Hugues. It was a Christmas house party in Leeds Six with bands playing. It was a really good party – smoke machines, bear costumes, an inflatable Incredible Hulk and a whole lot of Double Dutch. Jon and Sophie Hugues played for the first time as The Dwight Schultz, too. It was three or four instrumental songs. A couple of months later I joined on vocals and the band became Sailors.
Jon: I’d sum the following almost-three years up as follows:
Summer 2005 – recorded 2 CDRs at GhostTown in Leeds; Sophie moved to Newcastle
April 2006 – short tour of the UK
October 2006 – recorded EP for Gringo
Summer 2007 – Jon moved to Newcastle, Nick moved away from Leeds. Gringo EP and Helium Tapes 3-track tape released.
Am I wrong in saying Nick has issues with his hearing right now? has this effected the band dynamic and indeed threatened it's very existence?
Nick: You are not wrong, but it’s not the end of the world either. I’ve had tinnitus since I was thirteen, but towards the end of last year I was having problems with hearing what people were saying (possibly due to the environment I spent weekdays in around that time) and had a total freak out and decided that I should cease to expose myself to any music beyond stereo-player level whatsoever, and possibly become a librarian. Then, once I realised how hard it actually is to get a job in a library (a highly sought after position) I decided that maybe my fallback plan of being in Sailors was worth the sacrifice of going deaf after all. It did affect the band dynamic, as I put a total hold on practicing or playing until after I’d had a hearing test, which took three months. The results showed some damage, but to a level that the audiologist told me was probably fairly typical of people in my age group. He said that I should have regular hearing tests to check that it’s not getting any worse, but otherwise to - and I quote - “Rock on”. So, it did threaten the band’s existence during the hearing test referral period.After I play or go to see a band, the next day when my ears are throbbing and the sound of the world has been distressingly dulled, I think “I can’t do this to myself, I don’t want to go deaf!” The worst thing is having a conversation with somebody who either mumbles, or doesn’t talk loudly enough. I’ll ask them to repeat what they’ve said, and then they’ll say it again, but in an even quieter voice. What the hell is that all about?
Hugues: It has affected the band's dynamic, however not much more than things such as location and commitments of diverse nature.
Is the political nature of sailors lyrics a hark back to the leeds heritage of gang of four etc? Is sailors a political band inherently?
Hugues: We could start a lengthy and potentially tedious discussion on the political implications of being involved in a band or any artistic form of expression that doesn't strive towards profit or self promotion, but let's just say that there was never a political intent in us forming a band.
Sophie: I can't comment on the lyrics as I didn't write them, but for me, when I’m playing with Sailors, politics is the last thing on my mind. As is any sort of Leeds heritage.
Nick: The words to ‘Worse Things Have Happened At Sea’ could be considered political, but I don’t wish to throw my weight in anybody’s direction with a statement about how it is that the world should be run. That song’s about the size of the England’s population, and my wish that people would just cool it with their cranking out endless kiddiewinks like it’s going out of style. I could equally feel compelled to write words to a song that are about how I want to go on a wild porking rampage and get every female who will let me anywhere near her pregnant. And that this will please me because I aspire to having an international network of children. I wouldn’t like to put too much importance on what the lyrics actually are beyond abstracted phrases strung together for me to yell in an order that pleases me. But, obviously they aren’t unimportant either… From my end of things our songs tend to be fuelled by some sort of thrill of sexual agitation, general frustration and the need to rock out and party. We are an inherently apolitical band; Politics have nothing to do with the reason that we get together to play music. And I’m pretty sure we’re all fans of Gang Of Four. As much as I love that band, and there are some songs I think are note-worthily great lyrically, I also take their political shtick with pinch of salt. I don’t listen to music to help me decide who to vote for.
Chronicity and Broken Arm, what's the vibe and where does it end?
Hugues: The vibe is good, thank you.
Nick: Broken Arm is Hugues and I (still as bassist and vocalist respectively), with Guy Forks from Static Waves / Woman on guitar and Tom Pollard from Dungeon Dungeon / Like A Kind Of Matador on drums. The vibe is a less funky Woman, a less awkward Sailors and a faster Like A Kind Of Matador. Plus, Tom totally looks like Bananaman. Unfortunately, I never got to see Chronicity. It was Sophie’s band with Pete from Red Monkey. The footage I saw of them playing reminded me of Big Flame. But, they broke up.
Sophie: Chronicity: it ended, although Pete is still playing under the same moniker with other people. Can I unashamedly plug the Chronicity 7" that i have for sale? You should buy it. It nicely makes up for the lack of politics in Sailors.
Do you believe in a british underground right now? what are yr thoughts?
Hugues: There's a wealth of underground structures in the UK, which makes it pretty easy to play as often as we wish and hear good music. I wish it also helped me flog the tape releases I put out (both Sailors and the Piss Superstition tapes available from www.myspace.com/heliumtapes by the way!) but I guess my laziness and lack of organization should really take the blame. Other than that I’m not particularly bothered about things being underground or British.
Nick: I believe in a network of bands that operate on a level that wouldn’t necessarily be regarded as mainstream. But for me, in 2007 the gradient range between what would be considered as totally obscure culture, through to ridiculously familiar culture has so much crossover from top to bottom (and throughout the different layers) that it’s unimportant to distinguish. I’m continuously surprised by things that I consider offbeat or of the non-mainstream, to appear in the mainstream. Thanks to developments in communication and information technologies, the circumstances that allowed an ‘underground’ to exist as it did two or three decades ago are no longer in place. It’s still a useful phrase, I suppose. If I was at work and somebody hadn’t heard of Bilge Pump, I could perhaps accurately describe them as an ‘underground’ band to somehow posit their level of exposure. But for someone who is savvy with the plane on which a band like Bilge Pump exists to refer to that area of music as being ‘underground’ would be crediting it with more of an air of prestige than I would feel was warranted. The choice offered by contemporary media available means that music that might have previously been difficult to access thanks to old structures of record labels and radio and television programmes are now easily accessible (to those who can afford the technologies). Thanks to the internet, multiple television channels, radio stations and concert listings available, nobody need be acutely aware that the musical interests that they are pursuing are ‘underground’ whilst they’re going about their business. But to cut the theoretical shit, and get to the point of what you are actually asking – There’s a crop of bands and players who I have experienced directly through this self-organised network of music that I’ve enjoyed… Spin Spin The Dogs, Cleckhuddersfax, Ack Ack Ack, Army Of Flying Robots, Like A Kind Of Matador, Filthy Turd, The Piss Superstition, Birds Of Prey, Green Mist, Uprights, Woman, Monster Killed By Laser, The Flower-Corsano Duo, Trencher and McWatt being some of them.
As far as the “right now” part goes… As far as I can tell there has always been some awesome music and always been some awful-shit music at any given point in time. But what that is entirely down to personal preference, and the good music just has to be found.
It seems there's a flippancy to being in or forming a band now that aligns with this horribly fashionista mood in music right now. are you stringent with yr musical politics or are you likely to get in vice anytime soon?
Sophie: I’m not sure I totally understand the question but hell, if someone wanted to make me famous I wouldn't complain.
Hugues: if what you mean by fashionista mood is narcissism and lack of substance, then Myspace or Facebook are probably just as responsible as Vice - I guess they go hand in hand. That said I’m all over Myspace and I like to read Vice. Although they blatantly always pick grim topics to stay in line with that cool un-PC flavour (war, deviant sex, gun crime...), they do pull out more interesting features of global interest than a lot of the charging press - bear in mind I don't read that much press.
Nick: Has it ever been any different? I don’t think anyone in this group is the sort of person who would tend to gel socially with folk who live their cultural lives in a way that is defined by being directly responsive to trends or fashions. When I think of ‘fashionistas’, I have some notion of folk of a certain narcissistic type who are in tune to the new band that’s just starting to really make waves, but those people are fickle and culturally worthless and will come and go. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re arseholes personally and that you can’t hang out with them and have a great time getting totally hammered or playing scrabble together.
If Vice asked to do a feature on us, I would be really, really pleased. It’s the only magazine I try to read regularly without missing an issue. I don’t consider it an arbiter of taste, but it does feature a high portion of content that is very well suited to my idea of entertainment, covers bands that I like, has great articles. Some people feel it puts their nose out of joint, I just think that they’re becoming victims to their own personal insecurities that they don’t cut the mustard in the ‘cool’ stakes. The magazine takes everyone down a peg or two, what the hell sort of a person could read it in the comfort that they were safe from ever being the victim of a jibe in it?
And I hear so many people say ‘I hate Vice, it’s full of adverts’. Well, I would like to put it to those people that it’s a FREE magazine and if turning the pages of the advertisements that fund it to make it freely available is too much of an obstacle in the path of you getting to the meat of the mag, then what sort of mentally deficient cretin are you? You don’t deserve to be entertained! Sure, it’s not ideal, but who cares! So I don’t know if we’re likely to get in Vice any time soon, but if we were to I would be happy.
Jon: Music and politics aside, my main motivation in being in a band is hanging out with nice people in nice pubs (with good ale!) across the country and if we were in Vice or regularly playing at the Cockpit, Carling Academy etc, I think this would be lost.
How did the seven-inch come about with Matt? What's your take on Gringo records?
Jon: Nick and I tagged along with Bilge Pump on a trip to Nottingham about two years ago. Having arrived as strangers and unannounced guests, I proceeded to fall asleep in Matt’s bathroom and was sick everywhere. Not a good first impression. So when Matt asked if we’d be up for doing a record, it was both flattering and very surprising.
Gringo is great. I remember listening to Hirameka HiFi back in 1998 /99 and loving this cool new British music. Living in Leeds circa 2001-2003 meant a lot of Bilge Pump and Kill Yourself gigs, and they both put out great records on Gringo. So I suppose the label has always been something I’ve been respectful of; its good to join the gang.
Hugues: I particularly appreciate the fact that Matt offered to put out our record knowing that most of the bands on gringo are way tighter and more productive than we'll ever be. Some of them I was alreday into before sailors started playing (Bilge Pump, Lords, Wolves of Greece, Unit Ama) Also he’s always totally nice to us, which is a bonus.
Nick: Chris Summerlin of Lords is a vocal fan and supporter of ours. Chris told me that Matt Gringo was pondering what his next release could be and that he suggested us. As a label, I think our relationship with Gringo has more to do with a suited operational basis than through fitting into their music community per se. That Matt liked us enough to put out our 7”, and that we got on with him well enough and thought well enough of the label to think of it a great proposition. Which so far, it has been, so many thanks to Matt!
Musically, my favourite Gringo release I’ve heard is the Wolves Of (Greece) 10”, despite the fact that I didn’t like them the one time I saw them play. Also, Bilge Pump are regular Friday and Saturday night buddies of ours.
What’s floating yr boat right now musically or otherwise?
Sophie: Football's started to float my boat. Me and Jon played 5 a side 3 times in 8 days recently.
Hugues: These days, Crossed Out, Despise You, Man is the Bastard and the rest of the 90's power violence stuff. Did you hear that Despise You are playing again? Also Rudimentary Peni, Citizens Arrest, Pissed Jeans, Pink Reason, Clock Cleaner, a bit of that slowed down southern US rap stuff too, like DJ Screw and Lil’ Wayne. Basically full on Vice mag material, funnily enough.
That put aside, I’m working - dare I use the term - on a new tape release by Leeds band Uprights. They do that kind of edgy bass driven rock thing with some 80's noise rock dirginess thrown in, sort of like Butthole surfers maybe. That should be out soon. What else? I always like a nice meal, I wish I could do more travelling, and I have developed an uncanny and potentially dangerous interest in vintage motorbikes. I don't own one yet though.
Jon: Musically - The Horse Loom, Paper Cut Out and Bilge Pump (still), John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, McWatt, Nina Nastasia, Lovvers and Ack Ack Ack.
Otherwise – living in Newcastle again, Zest pesto, pub quizzes, 5-aside football, and the role of the voluntary sector in regeneration (new job!).
Nick: Musically, I’ve been easing myself into the winter with the aid of Alice Cooper, Pink Reason, Psychedelic Horseshit, The Dead C, Rolling Stones, Little Richard, The Ronettes, Holger Czukay, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, The Boredoms, Pocahaunted, Unsane, Joy Division, Fucked Up, Mike Rep and the Quotas, The Naughtiest Girl Was A Monitor, Big Stick and The Stooges amongst other things. I’m bummed out that I didn’t buy one of the reformed Halo Of Flies 7”s before they sold out from the Ox-Op online shop, so that’s rocking my musical boat in a disappointed fashion right now.
I’ve been working my way through one of those Werner Herzog box sets that Music Zone were selling dirt cheap a while back with the commentaries on, which is even better than watching them straight. It’s not the Klaus Kinski one; it’s the one with ‘Fata Morgana’ and ‘Even Dwarfs Started Small’ in it.
I went on a £40 spending rampage in Leeds and Liverpool’s pound shops, Woolworths and Tescos buying awesome Halloween stuff, so right now I have an great pumpkin that I carved (I’ll send you a picture if you like), a couple of ‘spooky sound’ soundtrack CDs, some rubber insects and some skeleton confetti. I went on a haunted hayride on a farm on the Wirral last Thursday that was disappointing, although the ‘Creepy Cottage’ was pretty good.
As a band do you aspire to much other than, say a seven inch or touring? in a DIY context is it fair to say sometimes ambition is percieved as selling out? should anyone even be thinking in these terms? Sophie: What does selling out mean anyway? If a band has no political drive in the first place, how can they sell out? We all have morals and a social conscience but this wouldn't stop me "selling out" if it meant larger audiences, more exposure, money and fame. What would stop me (and us as a band I suppose) is the fact that they wouldn't want us, we're not good looking or smooth enough (no offence lads!), and it doesn't really fit in with my life plan. Jon: I certainly aspire to more gigging, touring, new songs and perhaps (flying pigs etc) an album. I don’t see how anyone could call that selling out. In terms of ‘moving up a league’ (to take two random examples, like Blood Red Shoes or the Futureheads), as I said earlier, my main objection to it would be less to do with ‘politics’, and more to do that playing in the Carling Academy etc just wouldn’t be ‘me’ and it wouldn’t be as much fun.
Nick: I think achieving the creation of a 7” and sporadic performances is as much as we are capable of with the logistical, financial and time restraints that have long since imposed upon us. Yes, I think it’s fair to say that in a DIY context ambition is sometimes perceived as selling out (but not always), but that’s not something I’m concerned with. I like it when musical acts that are good get the level of success they deserve. I respect the fact that someone would choose to play music that fell a canyon short of my criteria of what makes good music to make a living, rather than work for a bank. I wouldn’t begrudge someone that. It doesn’t mean I can’t speculate that they’re musically worthless though.
Great bands can turn to shit for all sorts of reasons, and ‘selling out’ isn’t always it. The roots of ‘selling out’ as it’s known are in the 1980’s, and I think people who think in those terms generally tend to have a pretty marginal perspective on the way things function.
You totally slay live, is rehearsal for sailors like a cathartic melt down? and how easy do you find maintaining the group
Sophie: Hard work! Geographically it’s a nightmare. My fault initially for moving away from Leeds, but Jon and Nick followed suit pretty sharpish. From my point of view, rehearsal is often something that needs to be done to remind us what our songs go like, but playing live is amazing and the main reason for being in a band.
We haven't written a new song for a year.... I’d love to write some new stuff, but if we come up with an idea, it'll be a month or 2 before we can re-visit it by which point no one can remember what it was all about anyway
Hugues: Rehearsals are few and far between for all the reasons mentioned before so if we do slay live (thanks by the way), I guess we're pretty lucky. I have a couple bass lines ready to be submitted whenever we get the chance to write new stuff but for now we mainly practice whenever we have a gig.
Nick: There’s a different sort of atmosphere to practising with just the four of us in the afternoon than there is to playing to a room full of people at a concert in the evening. But, there’s a similar intensity when we practise, letting out steam. That’s when we write the songs, and although when we play to people the intention is to play the songs as succinctly as possible, the tense or hostile notions have to be there for us to write them in the first place. It can be very satisfying.
It’s very difficult maintaining the group, but we’re united in the fact that we all like our music; we’ve got a good musical chemistry between us when we get together and we’ve never had any discrepancy over the way we want to sound as a group. But also, it’s just the natural sound of the four of us together. So, whilst we enjoy our music and there are people that want us to come and play for them, and whilst Matt Gringo is sleeping every night on cardboard boxes filled with a good quarter of a thousand Sailors 7”s, that’s motivation for us to maintain the group. But it is very, very difficult.
Nicks got a pretty gutteral(?) yelp going on, at what age did he discover this talent, and has it got him out of any tight spots?
Nick: I’ve been aware of this talent ever since the first time I got angry when I was at school. And then I learnt that a similar sound also results when I get overexcited. I usually get out of tight spots by jumping over bars, or dashing drinks into people’s faces when it becomes evident that peace will not prevail imminently.
Hugues: All I know is that if you're going to chance any comparisons in the musical world, go for Sam MacPheeters rather than Chris Thomson, or Nick might get upset.
Nick: Yeah, I’ve been into all Sam McPheeters bands, but I’m certainly no fanboy. Men’s Recovery Project are probably my favourite. I’d never heard any Chris Thomson groups before this band had started.
What's been yr most satisfying/amazing/weird experience playing in Sailors so far?
Sophie: On our first and only tour, we played our first and only headline slot in Spalding. It was bloody awful, no one came and those that did left before we played. But what was amazing was that 2 girls came dressed as sailors and endured our full set. Thanks. That really made the night!
Nick: In Brighton, I watched that band Foals soundcheck. The guy with the black hair who sings was smoking, and I’ve never seen a cigarette play such an integral role in a soundcheck. Like a stylishly brandished weapon, its relocation from his mouth to its being placed under the stings at the top of his guitar was disturbingly artful. That was pretty weird.
Hugues: Playing house gigs is always fun, I particularly enjoyed the one we did at Anson’s corner in Manchester. The pasta bake Colin cooked us after the gig in Brighton was pretty satisfying.
Jon: It’s satisfying whenever people are into it, it’s a nice venue and there’s good beer and nice people. Stand-out gigs include that house show in Manchester on our first tour, Gringo’s 10th anniversary, NarcFest in Newcastle this summer and nervously opening for Jeffrey Lewis (our second or third gig).
Sophie’s mistaken as identifying the Spalding show as our only headline slot. There was the time we headlined the ‘Lindley Woodstock’ family festival in North Yorkshire. We turned up at noon, as instructed, to be told that we’d be going on at 6pm. Horrendously hungover (we’d played at a party the previous night and I for one hadn’t got to bed til 6 or 7am), we had to sit for six hours in a field, on the hottest day of the year, watching a horrifying array of rock covers bands, fist-in-the-mouth-awful folk singers and twelve year-olds struggling to play Nirvana songs at half-speed. When we did ‘headline’, everyone had gone home except three or four of our friends, the organiser, a tired, pissed-off and clueless soundman (“what do you mean there’s MEANT to be distortion?!!”) and some sheep.
Sailors were Nick, Sophie, Jon and Hugues
Nick and Hugues are now in BROKEN ARM:
Jon and Sophie continue to put on shows in Newcastle as THE STEAM SHIP'S MUSCLE:
Hugues also does this:
Oh yeah, buy the 7" here: