Interview: Robert Coles of Little Comets

By on Thursday, 10th March 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

Robert Coles, the dynamic lead singer and lyricist of Little Comets, happily obliged to answer some of my burning questions about how they got started (sorry, I had to ask), we talk about the trials and tribulations on making and releasing their debut album, the story behind the ‘Joanna’ video and much more.

I know two of you are brothers…but can you tell me how Little Comets got started?
Ahhhhhh, this question! Well, it was one of two ways either a) the enigmatic every-band-has-one story of how one night we all met as strangers on a train in Newcastle, dressed identically and thought it was so weird that we had to start a band or b) the actual way band’s meet: two brothers, a friend and someone we met in a rehearsal room…

Who plays what in Little Comets?
Mark drums, Michael plays the guitar, Matt plays bass and I sing (and we all sing).

Where did the name Little Comets come from? Is there any astronomy-related background on it? I was thinking about the title of your debut album, ‘In Search of Elusive Little Comets’, and what it meant, so I wondered if there was a deeper meaning than what is on the surface…
Erm……. The name came to Matt in a dream, the angel Gabriel appeared and told him to name his band ‘little comets’. Yeah, and then the album name comes from a scientific report that aims to explain the origin of the earth’s oceans through little comets of ice that are vaporized by the atmosphere on entry. [Editor’s note: it’s related to this 1998 article in Science Magazine. And like the boffin I am, I got my geek on, got it and read it. Astronomy rocks.]

You once described the Little Comets sound as “kitchen sink indie music”, though to me, that doesn’t mean anything. Can you elaborate?
Hmmmmmm actually I don’t think we ever did, that was some other bright spark…. I think the idea behind it is either a reference to the kitchen sink drama: depicting social realism (so this relates to our lyrics I think) or the fact that we use lots of bits of kitchenalia as percussion.

I first heard about you guys by a little single of the name ‘Adultery’, which feels like it was released eons ago – actually in 2009. Tell me how that song came about.
Wow yeah, 2009. What a year…I think we just listened to a lot of Debussy and borrowed a couple of phrases, then left it for a while because we had no lyrics. One afternoon me and Mickey were just playing it on a couple of acoustic guitars when the chorus popped into my head….then the rest of the lyrics came quite easily: the verses have a lovely number of syllables so you can be quite expansive with a line but still be able to bring it to point. Luckily when we recorded it, Mark and Mickey really loved the lyrics and so it gave me a lot of confidence to continue writing in that way. I’d say that this was probably the first proper Little Comets song we worked on together…

Now let’s switch gears and talk about the debut album, shall we? So I heard about the pretty tense time you had with being with Columbia, and then not being with them anymore…and then I heard they kept your tapes and wouldn’t give them back? Sounds like a right nightmare.
We like to do everything ourselves, whether it is artwork or production or live sound or writing a press release. I think the relationship was always destined to fail because of everybody’s expectations at the outset. They didn’t recognise that recording our own music (Mickey produces everything) was a key part of our writing process, as our songs just aren’t finished until we’ve fiddled with them; likewise we were naive in thinking that we’d just be allowed to do whatever we wanted. But then there was no reciprocity either: as musicians we thought they really understood us and trusted our instincts, so when they’d question our process without good reason we became confused to the extent that we’d then feel naturally able to question their logic in terms of the business side of things. Without any delineation everything ground to a halt. In the end I think we were lucky to get the album back at all.

But, as I wrote in my review of your album in January, I think Columbia made a massive, massive mistake. It’s a great achievement. How long did it take for you to go from writing to recording to finishing everything up?
Thanks a lot, we really appreciate that! The writing and recording was pretty simultaneous as that’s how we tend to work. It was recorded across about 3 months using initial recordings we’d done in various non-studio buildings in Newcastle and then finished off in a studio in France which had an amazing analogue desk ([Survivor’s] ‘Eye of the Tiger’ was mixed on it!). We loved the contrast of working in a non-pressured environment where we could afford to really layer and experiment with sounds and having to squeeze the most out of our shit equipment, and then working in the studio where deadlines became quite important. After the recording it took a few months to get it mixed, as Rich Costey wasn’t available…

And I heard the album is completely self-produced. How did you come to this decision, especially since it’s your first album? Producing an album yourself is a major undertaking.
It came about for a number of reasons really: we had a list of people that we really would have loved to work with but they didn’t at all match with Columbia’s ideas of producers. Alongside this we were adamant that the combination of Mickey producing with an experienced engineer (Daniel Rejmer) and mixer would work well. At every stage Columbia were convinced that we couldn’t cope with the responsibility so kept forcing the issue of working with a ‘top producer’. They ended up giving the tracks we’d already recorded ourselves to Rich Costey (someone whose work we really admired). He asked who’d produced these initial recordings and told Columbia that whoever had done them should record the album…we felt vindicated and luckily they took his advice!

What songs are your favourites on the album and why? Similarly, which songs are you most proud of?
I don’t know, that’s a hard question. We haven’t really thought about it…from a sonic perspective, I love how ‘Isles’ sounds: I think the drums are great and there is a bit of space which our music often lacks. Mickey did such a good job on that one I think…I suppose I’m just proud that we’ve managed the release the album at all considering the amount of problems we’ve had – we’ve worked really hard and stuck together through some very tough points. I’m more proud of Mickey, Mark and Matt and the people close to us than anything else.

You have a very distinctive vocal style. Have you always sung this way or did your vocal style develop as being part of Little Comets? Are there certain singers of past or present that you would say have influenced you?
I think singing is exactly the same as anything else – the more you practice, the more habits and nuances you develop whether bad or good…I wouldn’t say I’ve been influenced by any particular singer in terms of style, although no doubt I accidentally have been…

You guys just finished up a pretty extensive tour of the UK over the last couple of months. How did that go? What songs did you find garnered the best reaction live? How was the overall reception from fans?
It was actually surprisingly brilliant. We’re four very different people in certain ways and we managed not to have any massive arguments which (for us) [at the] shows we had fun. All the gigs were great: lots of people there, lesser-known songs on the album going down really well, the van didn’t break down, a lovely support band called B I G S L E E P, it was excellent really.

So you are from Newcastle. Do you think being from the Northeast is reflected any way in how Little Comets sound as a band?
Yep…I think there are certain melodic trends which run accidentally through a lot of the bands that have emerged from the north-east over the last 50 years. Certain intervals seem to crop up a lot…. I suppose a lot of this comes from Northumbrian folk music and the lilt of the accent. Geographically, Newcastle is also fairly isolated so we have a very strong regional identity, which no doubt has an influence on our culture.

What is your opinion of the Newcastle / Northeast scene? What are the best clubs / venues? Are you friendly with any of the bands in the area?
We’ve never really been part of any scene really, we just concentrated on our own music. There is a band called Ajimal (now based in Edinburgh) is pretty spectacular…

I looked at Manchester as being a major hive of musical activity for 2010, but I am thinking the Northeast is the place to look for hot new talent in 2011. Agree or disagree?
Haha, hot new talent. Right…everywhere is probably good for hot new talent. I wouldn’t really focus my search geographically for hot new talent. Hot new talent is everywhere. Is hot new talent a band? I’m confused.

Let’s talk about the promo video for ‘Joanna’. The song is so amazingly catchy, and I have my own thoughts on what the song is about. But I’ll be honest, I am confused by the video as all the focus is on the girls, and you are nowhere to be seen! What can you tell me about it, how you decided what the girls would be doing in the video, etc. Is the goldfish supposed to symbolise something?
When we were with Columbia we were constantly asked to do videos and photos where the premise was based around the four of us “larking about”. We felt intensely patronised. Luckily for the ‘Isles’ and ‘Joanna’ [videos] we found a director called Aoife McCardle who was interested in making a video with a distinct image and style without the necessity for a heavy reliance on our faces, and which could be quite liberally applied to the lyrical content of the song. We were so pleased with Isles that we were more than happy to commission another video for ‘Joanna’, through which she wanted to create portraits of different girls (all called Joanna) from quite challenging environments…

The goldfish symbolises Matt’s Oedipus complex combined with Mark’s yearning to reach beyond mortality and Mickey’s fear of enclosed spaces. I like fish so we decided to ask Aoife to include this specific image.

So far you’re booked for Camden Crawl….what else do you have lined up for festival season and this summer?
Erm… nothing yet really… we’re off to Texas for SXSW which should be nice but beyond that we’re going to record some more songs I think and hopefully get to play some of the bigger festivals like Glastonbury and Latitude.

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2 Responses

4:13 pm
10th March 2011

Thanks for this, really enjoyed reading it … one to add to my Crawl must see list? I know Little Comets have a bunch of rabid Twitter fans persuading everyone to pack that set … Excitement builds!

5:09 pm
26th June 2012

I love all your music so much your a great band and love you all,i must say tho i think im in love with Robert hes got that somthing about him that i fell for :).xxx

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