NOT READY FOR DROWNING...
Almost one year ago, The Drowners first hit the Vapour stage in what was to become one of the best nights the club has seen. They also conducted a shoot-style interview where they set out their stall and declared their aims. A year later, much has changed; musically, they are no less ferocious but have instead gained a sense of grandeur. Where once their reference points easily would have included ‘Pornography’ and ‘The Holy Bible’, it now seems more appropriate to compare them to ‘Disintegration’ and ‘Everything Must Go’. Their horizons have broadened and they have seen some notable changes; not just in mood, but also in line-up and setting. Vocalist Rob and bassist Simon take us through a humorous trip down Drowner lane…
First of all, what with your next gig being as what you might call the new Drowners, do you want to take us through the story of why Tim left, how James joined, how you know him and how it’s all working out.
Rob - Well this is a particularly interesting story.
Simon - (Laughs)
Rob - Unfortunately, there was no animosity or drugs, or sleeping with girlfriends, or even AIDS, Tim just moved to Dubai to earn some more money. Which is fine, kind of goes against my socialist credentials but, hey, what can I say, I earn loads of money.
Simon - (Laughs)
Rob - James basically conned us into pretending that he didn’t know that we were looking for a drummer. I met up with him thinking I was gonna con him, he conned me better and pretended that he didn’t know that we didn’t have a drummer and basically offered to play drums for us a bit too quickly. I was subsequently told by a friend that he’d been informed about a week earlier. We knew James from an old band called Such Little Things that we used to play in back in Birmingham when we all used to live together. It was a bit more indie than the one we’re in, ‘jangly’ I’d say, even though Simon would go ‘No!’
Simon - I would say it was more angular than jangly. It was a four piece, less heavy and more….shit. Yeah, that’s the important bit, very shit.
This brings us back to when we interviewed you last year. The quote was “We wanted to marry the ferocity of Holy Bible-era Manics with the overt melancholy of The Cure and make a more aggressive sound than before. Becoming a three-piece actually helped in that regard as it enabled us to get rid of parts that weren’t necessary and encouraged us to play more violently to make up for that”. What do you have to say to that in terms of the songs you have written since, do you still follow that ethos and how has the music changed? What have you been aiming for?
Rob - It’s become more aggressive, partly for the fact that previously I was writing pretty guitar parts over choruses, for example, which all sound very nice and Smithsy I guess, and layered, but didn’t really achieve the sort of thing I was trying to go for, which was just like teenage angst and I think now I haven’t been able to lose myself in writing those twiddly bits, which are essentially pretty much pointless, I’ll just play what I can physically play while singing at the same time. Then obviously because there’s less physical noise coming from three amps as opposed to four, Simon uses a distortion pedal to make up for the lack of rhythm guitar sometimes. I’ll use a lot more effects and play a lot more harshly.
Simon - But that was the case already in the previous interview! So that’s the difference between the four piece and the three piece but in terms of since the last Vapour Trail interview, that was more the question. More poppy I would say, but also more heavy.
Rob - I think I probably, in terms of writing, slightly got away from just making noise over dance drum beats. Perhaps got more anthemic, to use a horrible word. Just in terms of how we perhaps got carried away in our early Drowners days of just being the three of us and going “yeah, we can make loads of fucking noise and, even if people don’t like us, their ears are gonna hurt. Now I’m possibly putting it more into a song structure whilst maintaining that sort of early aggressiveness.
What do you think about - you talked about the aggressiveness and also the staple of the early sound, maybe you could say in the guitar parts that you wrote back then there was that melancholy - what do you think about that, do you think that’s changing or do you think you’re leaving that behind?
Rob - I definitely don’t think we’re leaving that behind, I think that’s always been there in everything I’ve written. I think the only thing we’re perhaps leaving behind is that we’re perhaps slightly more subtle, whereas before it was very loud, very soft, all at once. But, yeah, I think the melancholy will always be there.
Simon - When the melancholy goes, I go. Truth up!
One thing that you said last year, and this is a big difference between then and now and has to be addressed, is “Obviously, we’re going to carry on gigging as much as we can. We’re just so desperate to break out of Birmingham, there’s nothing there for us. We’ve seen so many bands from Birmingham supposedly ‘achieve’ things but what that inevitably means is that they’ve managed to get a gig in a slightly bigger venue and played to more of their friends and family at once than usual”. So basically that was then, you lived in Birmingham and things have changed obviously. Tell me about what it took to make the change and how it affected you guys and your music.
Rob - In terms of the change coming about, I guess I split up with my last girlfriend and Simon got bored, and I got bored, we’d slept with everyone in Birmingham, so we just made a snap decision to move to London after meeting Ross and Julia and everyone (ed - the VPT crew, basically) and realising we had friends and everything. I basically walked in on my first day back at work and quit, Simon didn’t have a job so it didn’t matter…
Simon - Yes I did…
Rob - You were only temping, you dickhead!
Simon - No I wasn’t…
Rob - Oh, I take that back, Simon was actually working, bizarrely…
Simon - I turned down a job in insurance to SIT HERE!
Rob - He could’ve been like his dad and everything! In terms of moving down here, we basically just packed up and fucked off. Musically, I think there’s maybe slightly more disillusionment whereas with the songs I was writing for early Drowners I couldn’t get disillusioned with Birmingham because I’d lived there all my life and knew it was shit, whereas here, whilst I don’t think it’s bad - I wouldn’t be anywhere else - it’s not quite as rose tinted as I thought. The streets aren’t paved gold but then they’re not paved with lead either.
So one other thing regarding that, how do you find London audiences differ to Birmingham audiences, or do they differ? When The Drowners came about, you said you wanted to pummel people’s ears and now you say that’s not so much the case, is that a reaction to the audiences or do you think there is any difference?
Rob - That’s an interesting question actually. Yeah, I think possibly, because in Birmingham we always knew we were so different to everyone else around and we never really expected to be particularly liked because we were so unfashionable and so noisy compared to most of the indie schmindie stuff that was going around. Whereas here I guess I don’t quite feel I have to do that because there’s loads of other bands playing pompous noise with no songs to it.
Simon - So actually, in London we’ve probably got a little edge of credibility but also we’ve got songs which I think there’s a lot of bands in London that don’t have songs, that have just got the sort of style, but I think the audiences are very similar. The only difference in London might be that there are more people who might be into what we’re doing.
Rob - I think the other thing here is that there are so many fucking cunts who can’t sing and can’t write a song but they’ll stand there making this pointless shit but they’ll look kind of cool, so even I’ll go and see them sometimes…
Simon - I’m talking about SCUM!
Rob - I think in London, as far as I’ve seen anyway, it seems rare to be able to marry the two together, whereas in Birmingham there wasn’t even the noise part of it whereas here there is, and now I feel like I’m distancing myself from that, purely because I don’t feel the need to just shock people.
Do you feel that with the majority of bands you’ve seen in London, do you think that there is a case of style over substance?
Rob - Er, yeah, very much so. In some cases, I mean you still get some of the same sort of bands you do in Birmingham, the sort of shitty bluesy indie bollocks, but here it seems like you can get away with just being cool far easier, I think, I don’t know what Simon thinks about that - I mean, he’s cooler than I am….
Simon - Haha…I actually do agree.
Now you’ve just recorded two new songs. Tell us about how the songs came about, what they’re sounding like, what they’re about and, again, how they differ?
Rob - Both are probably a bit more poppy. They came out of a combination of when we recorded them we didn’t really have any money so we basically just recorded two songs in a day and chose to mix them ourselves. One of them I’ve pretty much finished mixing, it’s probably poppier than a lot of the stuff and less noisy, as we’ve been alluding to.
Simon - Not that dissimilar to ‘Not A Love Song’ really, probably a similar-ish vein, I’d say.
Rob - But the chance to produce them yourselves gives you, whilst I don’t know anything at all about production, I’ve just been sort of winging it, which is why one song sounds a bit shit still, it gives you a chance to experiment and make it sound generally what you want without the tiredness of doing it all in one day and being subject to a producer. Whether it turns out to be a good or a bad thing, I’m not really sure yet.
Now, for the benefit of people who may not have seen you or heard you before, when you play in October - we’re gonna pay a little game of word association - try and describe The Drowners in five words. I know this is a stupid fucking question, but try and describe The Drowners in five words - both of you…
Rob - Rob is probably too drunk….
Simon - The bass player is…better…
How do you think in terms of style, if at all, James differs from Tim, playing-wise?
Rob - He’s probably a bit more imaginative I’d say and maybe slightly less aggressive - but I’m not sure yet if that’s just cos he doesn’t know the songs as well. The main thing is he puts in more fills and tries to do more complicated things.
Simon - …though in every other respect, he is the same person! He’s beefy (ed - The Drowners, amongst other things, are famous for bringing the word ‘beefy’ - meaning ‘good’, essentially - into the London lexicon of colloquial language - soon to be hitting Bournemouth and Bognor shortly, surely) and he’s the originator of ‘beef’. He’s the good looking one, he buys cars, he earns money.
I was gonna say then, a new picture that’s turned up on your Myspace, a couple of war painted cretins either side and a good looking guy in the middle…
Rob - Actually, that photo’s a complete con, the photo of James is from the old band. I just stuck it together with pictures of me and Simon. We haven’t had a chance to have a proper photo shoot yet but, yeah, he is irritatingly attractive - but he’s got a girlfriend so fuck off!
Simon - Yeah, fuck off. Let me just confirm: he is taken…but I’M NOT! YES! I’M NOT, I TELL YOU! (Ed - this may no longer be true!)
One thing that we always ask, and it’s a fucking boring question, what are your future plans, whether that be in the immediate future or the future as a whole? Maybe answer both…
(For the uninitiated, cue numerous Peep Show references!)
Rob - Yeah, we should talk about that and action some points!
Simon - Let’s do lunch. Is two good for you?
Rob - Yeah, I’ll drop in and I’ll see where you’re at and have a couple of Frappacinos and shoot the shit!
Simon - Me, you, some Chinese food and a couple of fuck-off spread sheets!
Rob - I’ve got a 32 inch HD monitor at home, when you’re looking at a spreadsheet, you’re fucking looking at that spreadsheet!
In terms of plans, we probably need to step it up a notch and stop floating around.
These new recordings, where are they gonna go and are you gonna do more new recordings?
Rob - Obviously we’ll hope to do more new recordings. In terms of James, he seems to have some sort of contacts, or at least he says he does. I think our major next step is to really concentrate on getting some sort of good management, get better gigs, not just keep on playing in bars and pubs and stuff, like all London bands play.
Simon - And just to get more people to hear us, which I don’t think we’ve done. We need to get everyone to at least know who we are and maybe have an opinion on us.
Rob - Yeah, it doesn’t matter if they hate us, that’s absolutely fine. I won’t like them but that doesn’t matter.
One thing that is definitely worth asking and has to be asked tactfully so that you don’t end up slagging anyone off…
Both - Hahahaha!
…you talked about management, can you advise on what to look for in good management and what NOT to look for?
Rob - I think mainly stay away from wide boy cunts, especially ones who try to shake your hand too hard just to prove how manly they are, and comment on people who you’re sleeping with like it’s a big fucking deal. That just proves that they haven’t slept with anyone.
Simon - In normal circumstances, pinstripes are good, but in managers, I would say avoid the pinstripe suit and shades, and if they talk about their dad more than they talk about themselves, you know there’s something wrong.
Rob - Also, if you can name bands and little venues they haven’t heard of, stay away. What a cunt.
To conclude, firstly, what can you remember about your first time at the Vapour Trail, which is now one year ago?
Simon - My biggest memory is thinking ‘wow, there’s a few people that like us - that’s never happened before!’ Apart from that, I remember good people, bad sound, and we were the best band of the night!
Rob - Well, obviously we were the best band of the night - Ross (Liddle, The Firm) was on! Jesus! The main thing I remember is getting paid, that doesn’t happen, and then being so impressed that I spent it all on…not getting myself and everyone else drunk cos…we didn’t get paid that much!
Simon - Hahahaha!
And FINALLY, give us some sort of insight into what will be happening, in terms of the set, in terms of the drunkenness, in terms of what songs Simon will play when he Djs, some sort of insight into what’s gonna happen when you play again?
Simon - I think we need to step up the drunkenness cos we’ve been lagging recently, but we’re gonna amend that, we haven’t drunk enough, we need to work on it, we’ve let the side down a bit recently. We haven’t been bad enough.
Rob - But you always have a go at me when I get drunk! Er…seven songs…on average, about three and a half minutes to four….
Simon - ….about average length and medium girth…
Rob - …you can expect a guitar solo, a verse…probably two…two, if not three, choruses….usually three….there’ll also be a nice ‘Roses In The Hospital’ clap along moment…and probably a very out of tune guitar.
Simon - And we’ll be swooning the ladies in the audience with giving out free flowers, and knickers are welcome onstage.
Rob - What Simon really means is he’s gonna try and take the flowers and fail…
Simon - What else?