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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: #1 – Findlay

 
By on Friday, 13th December 2013 at 11:00 am
 

And so we come to the number one spot on TGTF’s run-down of the acts to watch for 2014. And the winner of that coveted honour is… Findlay, the dirty-rock outfit fronted by the eponymous Natalie. Their 2013 was momentous, from a raucous set at Liverpool Sound City (photos here, Sound City coverage here), being picked by fashion designer L’Wren Scott (Mick Jagger’s better half) to play the prestigious Serpentine Ball in front of the great and the good of the fashion world, to finishing the year with their very first headline UK tour, the trajectory has been steadily upwards. And even though Findlay is the name of the band, it’s really their lead singer who gets all the attention, and with good reason: it’s her sassy, grungy, sexy delivery that give Findlay their appeal, both live and on record.

2012’s début single ‘Your Sister’ really does start as they mean to go on. Unashamedly pilfering a T-Rex riff, Findlay smoulders and growls something about kissing, through a distorted, reverbed microphone, before things reach such a pitch that all she can manage are a few primordial groans. Well done her. If anything, its follow-up ‘Off & On’ turns every knob a bit further towards 11. There’s a little less smoulder, but a lot more urgency and an almost cod-horror feel to the vestigial chorus – the soundtrack to a zombie car-chase. It’s over before it’s even begun, a crazy, sub-three-minute vignette of vamp-rock.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JwqRHE1Q2E[/youtube]

For latest single ‘Greasy Love’ production duties are taken on by legendary rock producer Flood – a sure sign, if any were needed, that Findlay are mixing it in the big time now. The results are clear to hear – if anything, the drama is brought to even more dizzying heights. The vocal is distorted almost beyond recognition, and the narrative abstraction is on another level – undoubtedly she’s talking about something very naughty indeed, over a swampy guitar groove and thudding drums. The result is neatly summarised by the visual tone of the accompanying video – tinted blood-red, Findlay stalks through a desolate urban landscape, caterwauling about all manner of behind-closed-doors shenanigans.

The involvement of Flood is even more significant when one considers the body of work he’s produced with PJ Harvey, perhaps something of an influence on the nascent Findlay. One could also mention as influences well-known punky females such as Patti Smith and Courtney Love. Findlay isn’t quite a Riot Grrrl yet, though – there’s little in the way of strident feminism, although there may be a glimmer hidden under the abstraction, and her stage persona is, frankly, a little more raunchy than the Grrrls of old would condone – but perhaps that makes her all the more balanced a performer. Either way, there’s plenty of star quality to Natalie Findlay, and there’s no doubt at all that 2014 should be the year she makes the jump into the mainstream consciousness. Greasy or not.

 

(10 for 2014!) Quickfire Questions #60: Tommy Wright of Young Kato

 
By on Thursday, 12th December 2013 at 1:00 pm
 

#7 on this year’s TGTF 10 for 2014 reader’s poll was young band from Cheltenham Young Kato. Yesterday, we posted this q&a I did with lead singer and master of hair Tommy Wright. Today, we’ve got his answers to the TGTF Quickfire Questions. Ah yes, we take a stroll down memory lane with Tommy, back to the days of early Busted, as well as a sob-filled scene in 1998. I’ve gotten you hooked, haven’t I? Read on…

What song is your earliest musical memory?
I have a ridiculous memory and can still remember myself at about 4-year old playing a toy guitar in front of the whole class. I didn’t play any actual chords, I just strummed along and sung ‘In the Summertime’ by I think Mungo Jerry? Weird child, I know… [Not at all, Tommy. If you’re going to remember a song, make it a classic – Ed.]

What was your favourite song as a child?
As I’ve grown up my musical taste has changed dramatically so can’t really say what my favourite song was, but I know I was at the perfect age when Busted released their debut album, haha!

What song makes you laugh?
Colt 45 – ‘Afroman’

What song makes you cry?
Aqua – ‘Turn Back Time’. I vividly remember the video montage after England got knocked out of the ’98 World Cup – I cried my eyes out.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ls0WfopgR9k[/youtube]

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.)
There are at least 2 songs on our album that I’ve written specifically with my girlfriend in mind. We’ve been together for nearly 3 years and she’s been at pretty much every gig, in front of nine people and 9,000.

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.)
Most likely the one in the previous answer if it all goes wrong. I’m confident it won’t, though.

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

‘Imagine’ – John Lennon.

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

I’d have to go with Morrissey and Marr as a combination.

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

In 2011, I had my place booked at university, I even had my accommodation. I was off to study Film and Television and had a real passion for it. However after a week at Reading Festival, I knew I had to take at least one year out to pursue music.

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.)
U2 – ‘The Joshua Tree’ because it is my favorite album of all time.

 

10 for 2014 Interview: High Hazels

 
By on Thursday, 12th December 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

We caught up with the #4 band on the TGTF 10 for 2014 readers’ poll, Sheffield’s High Hazels, to ask them some questions about how their year went, what they’re up to this holiday season and what they’re looking forward to in 2014.

Looking back, 2013 was quite an eventful year for High Hazels. What were some of the highlights for you?
Scott Howes (guitar): The single launch at The Harley in October was a particular highlight, it felt like a real achievement releasing a single with a label considering it was under a year since we first took to a stage together. The gig itself was sold out which took us all by surprise. Tramlines festival in the summer was great as well, it was a really busy weekend, we played four gigs in two days but they were all great shows. On the Saturday night of the festival we played at the Shakespeare which was probably our favourite of the weekend.

Do you plan to take any time off for the holidays? Will any of you be doing anything special?
James Leesley (vocals / guitar): I think we’ll be spending a few days with friends and family for a couple of days for the traditional festivities, but we’ve got our Christmas show bang in the middle of all the celebrations so it really will be just a couple of days off! Mind you, I get a bit lost after a day or two without the guitar so I suppose it’s worked out alright.

You have a Christmas show planned at home at the Shakespeare on 28 December. It seems such a wonderfully English thing to have a hometown show, surrounded by the people that have stood by you since the beginning. Anything special / Christmassy planned for it (Speaking of the Shakespeare, our editor was wondering if the live bits of ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ were filmed there?)
Anthony Barlow (drums): Shakespeare’s has a very traditional English pub feel about it, which is one of the main reasons why we thought it would be a great venue at this time of the year. It’s a charming pub with loads of real ales to drink! It’s one of our favourite watering holes and we spend most Saturday nights in there. Our favourite DJs King Bee also host their superb club night in there every month, and they’ll be spinning some tunes into the early hours after we play on the 28th. We also played there as part of Tramlines Festival in the summer, and it turned out to be our favourite show so far, the atmosphere was great. We try and space our hometown shows out as much as possible so we really can’t wait to play now.

The ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ video was filmed there, well spotted! We needed a location that blended in with the rest of the video which was made up of home footage, filmed in the ’80s.

What’s your favourite holiday song, and why is it special to you?
James: ‘The Christmas Song’ by Nat King Cole. It’s major seventh heaven and captures the season perfectly.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__kQ1PCP6B0[/youtube]

What can we expect to see/hear from you in 2014? Possibly an album release?
Anthony: There will be a couple of significant releases in 2014, we can’t really say much more than that yet. But we are ridiculously excited about them. This past 12 months have set us up nicely for 2014. It should be a very interesting year and we can’t wait to get stuck into it.

What releases from other artists are you looking forward to in 2014?
Anthony: Hamilton Leithauser from The Walkmen is working on a solo album, that should be interesting. He’s a great singer and writer and he’s drafted in some friends to work on the album with him including members of Fleet Foxes and The Shins. Sounds like it has some pretty good ingredients to me! I’m also looking forward to hearing Broken Bells‘ new album, their first effort was great and I’m sure it’ll be just as good this time around.

Cheers lads 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]

 

(10 for 2014!) Live Gig Video: Flyte perform new song ‘Harley Street’ in singer Will Taylor’s bedroom

 
By on Wednesday, 11th December 2013 at 4:00 pm
 

It’s not too often these days that we see bands performing where it all started. Which, generally, was someone’s bedroom. This also happens to be where Flyte, the London band that was voted into the #5 position of our 10 for 2014 list this year, recently filmed this live performance of their brand new song, ‘Harley Street’, aka the ‘high street’ for posh doctors and specialists in London Town.

Is this indicative of the protagonist’s mental illness, requiring a visit to the famous street? We can’t be sure, but one thing we can be sure of is that the live video of the band playing the song sounds pretty nifty, even if the film shot in singer Will Taylor’s bedroom is pretty lo-fi. Watch it below.

Stay tuned for a Quickfire Questions feature starring Will coming soon to TGTF.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF17rum5Fl8[/youtube]

 
 
 

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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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