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(10 for 2014!) Quickfire Questions #62: Luke Smith of China Rats

 
By on Monday, 16th December 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Leeds punk rockers China Rats landed at the #2 position on this year’s 10 for 2014 list. Naturally, we wanted one of them to answer the TGTF Quickfire Questions and Luke Smith, lead guitarist and backing vocalist of the group, stepped up to the plate.

What song is your earliest musical memory?
Seeing Oasis on the telly.

What was your favourite song as a child?
‘Smooth Criminal’ – Michael Jackson

What song makes you laugh?
‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On’ – Leonard Cohen

What song makes you cry?
‘Oh Sister’ – Bob Dylan

What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc.)
‘Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts’ – Arctic Monkeys

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BATj0SFx_8[/youtube]

What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
‘Gimme Some Truth’ – John Lennon

Which song (any song written in the last century) do you wish you’d written yourself?

‘Comfortably Numb’ – Pink Floyd

Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.)

Leonard Cohen

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
Working in an amusement park.

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, but double albums do not count.)
‘Dark Side of the Moon’ would sound good in Heaven.

Thanks Luke for answering our questions!

 

10 for 2014 Interview: Graeme Thompson of China Rats

 
By on Friday, 13th December 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

After the announcement yesterday that Leeds band China Rats landed at #2 in the TGTF 10 for 2014 readers’ poll, I had a cheeky chat with the Rats’ frontman Graeme Thompson (lead vocals and guitar). We talked about their hometown, where their name came from (come now, you were dying to know this too, weren’t you?), what it’s been like working with fab producer Matt Peel, and their American baptism by fire at this year’s SXSW.

So you’re from Leeds. How important is being from Leeds play in the story of China Rats?
We all met in Leeds and have lived here ever since. Leeds is very important to us, as without it we wouldn’t exist. There are so many great bands and venues in the city as well, everybody’s feeding off each other and being inspired, there’s lots going on, it’s impossible to ignore.

Ok, I’m Chinese, so I have to ask…why China Rats? How did you arrive at that name? Were you known by other monikers prior to it?
Luke and me kept a pet rat a couple of years back whose cage was made in China. We named the band in memory of our rat, RIP. We’ve been playing together in various guises since we met but only formed China Rats when we wrote new songs, which weren’t working with what we were doing before.

Your catalogue, songs like the earlier ‘To Be Like I’ seems to be almost like from another band. Was there a moment when things “clicked” to your current sound?
I think when we decided to work with a producer instead of self-producing our own music was when our sound became closer to how it is now on ‘Don’t Play With Fire’ [the band’s latest EP, which I reviewed here]. Matt Peel helped us see that we didn’t need to spend hours recording songs to finish them. We just set up and played through the songs adding bits here and there, it felt quite organic doing vocals in 1 take rather than 100, and nothing had to be perfect.

From what I’ve read, a lot of people have noted that your sound seems to be channeling the spirit of great past punk bands like the Clash and the Ramones. Do these comparisons make you uncomfortable, or do you think they’re appropriate? Explain.
We’ll never feel uncomfortable being compared to such highly regarded bands, but I (think) these comparisons give us more of a push to change it up a bit next time. Influences are always going to shine through, but we don’t want people to feel we’re just ripping (from) the past.

Besides those two bands, what bands that are active today do you look to as influences?
Everyone’s getting influences from all over the show, there’s a lot of cool bands coming out of Leeds, like Soulmates Never Die and Eagulls, who are setting the bar high so we’re getting a lot of inspiration from the local scene. We’ve been listening to a lot of The Feelies and The The lately as well.

The first time I saw you gig was at this year’s SXSW, at a British Music Embassy showcase. Tell us what it was like to go to America and play there. How different was it playing there, versus back in Britain? Was it your first time visiting the States?
It was my first time visiting the States, so to go to play a gig in Austin was unreal. There’s a lot of industry at SXSW so it can be a strange place to be, sometimes your playing to a of room stony faces, sometimes there’ll be loads of locals and people just there to enjoy themselves. It’s pretty similar to Britain in the way that the crowds aren’t easy to please, but then I guess there’s a lot (of people) from all over the world at SXSW. Hopefully, we’ll go stateside again sometime and play our own show and feel more of an authentic U.S. vibe.

There is this wonderful story about your band having to step in to headline Benicassim in 2012 out of necessity and it was entirely unplanned. Can you tell us what happened? How did you go over?
We played the campsite the night before the festival kicked off, and I guess the promoter enjoyed us as he asked us to fill in for Bat for Lashes when their bus broke down. The show was madness, it was about 2 AM (when we played), so everyone was well oiled and it looked like there were about 10,000 people in front of us. We were getting texts all over the show from people back home.

Your EP ‘Don’t Play with Fire’, released on Once Upon a Time Records in September, was one of my favourite releases of 2013. What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the EP?
Glad you like it!! We wrote the entire EP at our practice room in Leeds, we then hooked up with Matt Peel who produced it for us at Cottage Road. It was the first time we’d recorded anywhere other than our own home, so it made a real difference having someone else’s insight. We recorded the basis of the tracks live and quickly, which felt a lot more raw and organic compared to past recordings.

What’s on tap for China Rats in 2014? Can we expect a debut album soon?
The albums basically written we’re just waiting to record it now, which should be early next year. Then 2014’s going to be a lot of touring and putting the album out at some point!

Cheers Graeme for answering our questions!

 

10 for 2014: #2 – China Rats

 
By on Thursday, 12th December 2013 at 11:00 am
 

There seems to be this ongoing confusion at the major British music magazines on who the next great British guitar band will be. And there’s always contention over which publication is going to break said next great British guitar band and who the next flavour of the month will actually be. Never mind how long they actually stay in the public’s consciousness. Last year, if you were religiously reading NME, you were probably getting your rocks off Peace, who actually placed fifth on the TGTF 10 for 2013 poll last year, thanks to our readers’ good graces. But excuse me while I yawn. I thought it was strange that Peace were chosen to close out this year’s British Music Embassy at SXSW; to me, there are so many far more better UK bands who had made the trip to Austin that deserved that spot instead. I just didn’t get them Brummies. And initially, I didn’t warm to China Rats either. But sometimes seeing is believing, even if you have to be clocked (musically) in the head a second time to see the light.

China Rats are from Leeds. If you are like me and have never actually been to Leeds, you have this image in your head, fostered by seemingly well-meaning friends from America who say, “don’t visit, it’s gritty and dirty and there’s nothing there.” Err, okay. I suppose in the case of China Rats, this worked to their advantage in my mind: this supposed urban squalor I then envisioned was exactly the kind of environment I’d expect a band like them to rise up from. Again, I’ve never visited the place and I have friends from round there who have nothing but good things to say about Leeds as a city, but in terms of any ensuing future band mythology, I think the image serves them well. I say this with affection, because you don’t expect searing, hard-hitting rock coming from places with bright, shiny, scrubbed-clean surfaces, do you?

The grammatically incorrect ‘To Be Like I’ EP, released on their current label Once Upon a Time Records, was their first foray in the music world in the spring of 2012. It’s interesting how the band has evolved, because the EP’s title track sounds very Beatle-y, with its “ay ay ays”. Not bad, but not a standout. It was, however, a big enough record for Radio 1’s Huw Stephens to jump onboard and be one of their first high-profile supporters. Full of piss and vinegar, single ‘(At Least Those) Kids Are Getting Fed’ released in autumn 2012 represented a shift in direction. As in providing the sonic equivalent to a swift boot kick up the rear.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52bv0BorhFM[/youtube]

I’ll be honest, when I saw them at this year’s SXSW playing this song, I wasn’t all that impressed: they seemed a little too green, a little too tentative. A lot of people showed up to see them play at Latitude 30, which is great, but I kind of groaned over it because I was sure some of them had come because they’d see their all too brief write-up described here in American pop culture and fashion magazine Nylon. I’d hoped people had come for the music and actually heard the mp3 of the single they’d given away, and not because they’d seen their photo and decided, “ooh, let’s go see some cute British boys!” (If you’re wondering, I’ve actually been approached and interrogated at SXSW by American girls with such tendencies…)

I’m glad I made the commitment to see them 2 months later at the Great Escape 2013, because what a difference 2 months made for them. Maybe it was the not suffering from jetlag and only a mere drive down from Yorkshire to Brighton, or because they were back home in blighty; whatever it was, they came out swinging with their blistering brand of rebel rock and the crowd reaction was enormous. I’ve not gotten the chance to meet them in person – hopefully sometime soon! – but Blue Corner Store did a lovely interview with them in Brighton, which you can watch at the end of this post.

In Austin, I seriously doubted those that compared them to the Clash and the Ramones early on. But you can hear echoes of the NYC and London brands of punk loud and clear in their latest EP, ‘Don’t Play with Fire’, released in September. I thought the EP was near brilliance; you can read my thoughts about the EP here. Lead single ‘N.O.M.O.N.E.Y’ could be the rallying cry for the hard-working but skint musicians of the world, and the song’s message would have been equally applauded by Joe Strummer and Joe Ramone. Sometimes what you need in your life is something to make you feel alive, and musically, 2 years after their formation, China Rats seem to have sussed this.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNQS4bt4aXg[/youtube]

 

Album Review: China Rats – Don’t Play with Fire EP

 
By on Wednesday, 25th September 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Perhaps it’s just too much thinking on my part – and too many years spent on this side of the Atlantic considering the impact of what us Yanks call from the ’60s the British Invasion – but a war, however cosmetically portrayed by NME or other music magazines, may be waged between two bands very soon in the North East. Reading over the press release for the upcoming EP from China Rats, it seemed to me a mighty fine coincidence that this new release of five songs to be collectively known later this month as ‘Don’t Play with Fire’ was produced in the band’s hometown of Leeds by none other than Matt Peel of Cottage Road Studios.

Peel happens to be the same man whose golden production touch is on both of the Crookes‘ albums ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ and ‘Hold Fast’, and my guess is he’ll also be working on their third later this year. Clearly, Peel lets the bands do what they do best and helps them sound their best, because despite sharing a producer, the bands both sound monumentally good. But different. And the way I see it, the Crookes are the Beatles and China Rats are the Stones in this made-up battle in my head. For those of you Fab Four / Stones scholars, you will recall that the Stones took a bit longer to get rolling on releases and popularity, but rather quickly they found themselves caught up to the Beatles and developed a massive fan base of their own.

China Rats’ most high profile performance at this year’s SXSW was on the Friday night, playing the British Music Embassy’s evening showcase being sponsored by PRS and Kilimanjaro Live, a major UK event promoter. Curiously, they appeared on the bill just before the Crookes. I know, because I was there and I have the promotional poster. I knew a couple of the band’s songs and to be honest, wasn’t all that impressed by them on record. Live, I thought they were good, but not great: they seemed a little tentative, which I suppose should be expected for a bunch of English lads on their first trip to Austin. Fast forward 2 months to Brighton and the Great Escape 2013, where the band played to a rammed Old Ship Paginini Ballroom on Saturday night: the more jaded journalists might say that they were playing to a captive audience who arrived early for the 1975 later, but there was no denying the crush of bodies down the front, fists raised, for the Leeds band.

So does the new EP sink or swim? The best song on here is second track ‘Deadbeat’, with its driving drums and what is to become an instantly recognised banging guitar intro. ‘N.O.M.O.N.E.Y.’ (previous Video of the Moment here) and ‘Get Loose’ both have good, strong whiffs of earlier, less inhibited, less sleepy recent Vaccines, which in my opinion can only be a good thing after that train wreck known as ‘Melody Calling’. You can just see the punters now, throwing their bodies round a circle mosh pit at a festival to these songs. I sort of imagine frontman Graeme Thompson looking at his own image in a mirror, practising his best anti-establishment, Johnny Rotten-type sneer. My guess though is, from his age at least, is that Thompson more likely picked up the sneer from the Gallagher brothers, and now is better at his active bitch face – and growly voice – than either of them.

Track ‘Reeperbahn’ just by the name is a nice nod to the infamous red light district of Hamburg where the Beatles honed their craft and ‘became’ men. Oddly, it’s not the raucous, firing on all cylinders affair I’d expected to be but instead something that might have been in the earlier portions of the Fabs or the Stones’ back catalogues. It’s passable, but it feels like a letdown after the first three very good songs. Luckily, EP closer ‘Green Tears’ brings back the swagger, with psychedelic vocal effects and more boots up the backside. This song also features an absolutely brilliant guitar solo; forget the groups that NME are touting as the next great British rock band, China Rats are the future.

If the Crookes are in line to become the kings of Tramlines very soon, then it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination that China Rats could be the same for Live at Leeds if they can keep their songs up to this level. If a battle between the two actually materialises, it will be us, the music-loving public, who will win. Play on, lads.

8.5/10

‘Don’t Play With Fire’, the second EP from Leeds rockers China Rats, is out the 30th of September on Once Upon a Time Records.

 

Video of the Moment #1316: China Rats

 
By on Wednesday, 11th September 2013 at 6:00 pm
 

Leeds rockers China Rats are getting to release a new EP on the 30th of September on Once Upon a Time Records. Called ‘Don’t Play With Fire’, the EP features this opening track, ‘N.O.M.O.N.E.Y.’ They’re standing steadfastly by this particular song’s ethos, as they’ve decided they will let the first five people that show up to dates on their English tour next month into the show for free, provided they prove they’ve no money. (Press release says, “Free entry will be at the discretion of the venues so people are advised to “get creative”!” So you have your instructions.)

The promo video for ‘N.O.M.O.N.E.Y.’ is an animated affair, appropriately using the lowest denominations of the Queen’s currency. Watch it below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8IQXHPBhR0[/youtube]

 

China Rats / October 2013 English Tour

 
By on Tuesday, 6th August 2013 at 9:00 am
 

China Rats from Leeds will be touring England in October. Tickets are on sale now.

Tuesday 1st October 2013 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Wednesday 2nd October 2013 – Nottingham Bodega
Thursday 3rd October 2013 – Bristol Louisiana
Saturday 5th October 2013 – Birmingham Sunflower Lounge
Sunday 6th October 2013 – Liverpool Korova
Monday 7th October 2013 – Leicester Lock 42
Tuesday 8th October 2013 – Brighton Green Door Store
Wednesday 9th October 2013 – London Sebright Arms

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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