In an area devoted to the plinking fragility of melodic guitar-pop and latterly charity shop pop, it was somewhat refreshing to see a guitar driven Liverpool based band (and North Wales as I know how patriotic the Welsh are!) making the most gorgeous aggressive grunge/jangly racket in their debut All My Friends Are Dead To Me (out of Eye Penny Records).
Inspired and intrigued, Janglepophub caught up with frontman and songwriter, Kyle Lee, to find out a bit more about them.
Thanks for joining us Kyle…In the best tradition of ‘we let our music do the talking’ type bands, you don’t appear intent on splattering the internet with band bio’s…but for the sake of the janglepophub readership tell us a bit about the band?
All of us have a bit of a musical history with one another going back quite a few years. Myself (Kyle) and Doug (Drummer) met in Bangor in North Wales about 10 years ago. I was coerced into joining a grunge pop band (SONA) on bass with Doug by our mutual friend Jamie. We gigged off and on along the North Wales Coast for about 4 years before all moving in separate directions and starting different bands.
I also met Web (Bass) and Jay (Rhythm Guitar) in Bangor, but this was at a house party where they were visiting a friend who they were in a band with (The Good Host) and knew from their hometowns of Runcorn and Warrington. Jay and Web had also studied Music Technology together and had performed in a few different projects together over the years.
Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself living in Liverpool and looking for musicians to join a Country/Mariachi band I had started called The Mexican Walking Fish. I didn’t have to look too long. In my first weekend of living in Liverpool I bumped into Jay in a pub who was now living in Liverpool a long with Web and other Good Host members.
After a messy weekend and many nights in the pub together, Web agreed to join the band on bass and the three of us continued trying to make our stamp on this city by putting on events together with both of our bands supporting one another.
To cut a long story short, Doug also moved to Liverpool, I had recently fired the drummer from The Mexican Walking Fish so the logical step was to get Doug in the band. On paper it was perfect. In reality It wasn’t. That band ended with me wanting to go back to my roots of writing and performing heavier music.
I’d written a few songs over the years that never really found a home, so Myself, Web and Doug decided to jam over a couple of them and convinced Jay in to coming down for a few beers whilst we practiced. Jay slowly started to join in with the jams and before we knew it we were a four piece (although it took Jay a few more months to admit he was in a band with us).
I love your sound. However, I found it hard to describe the aesthetic and feel a bit trite describing it as jangle grunge? Describe your sound in your own words and the influences that shape it?
I also find it hard to describe our sound. When pressed I’ll usually say Alt/Grunge. We often get compared to Dinosaur Jr, early Nirvana and Pavement. I’d say these three bands have had a massive influence on me as a guitarist and it’s safe to say that comes out in our music.
I listen to a lot of 90s guitar bands like Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Pixies so there’s a fair bit of that in there too.
What were the last three albums you obtained (downloads count)?
The last album I downloaded and coincidentally my favourite album of 2019 was Los Blancos – “Sbwriel Gwyn”. Los Blancos are a Welsh medium band who make Pavement-esque music. It’s a great album and you should definitely download it.
I recently started listening to Young Jesus and bought their album “S/T” as I thought I owed them some money based on the amount of times I had streamed “Feeling” over the last year.
I reckon the 3rd most recent album I purchased was probably “Deceiver” by Diiv. I’ve been a big fan of Diiv since the start, but this album is the one that speaks to me on another level. Some of the guitar parts are beautiful.
There appear to be themes of lost love, self-deprecation, disaffection and loneliness in your lyrics…do you find it easier, or more rewarding to write about pain rather than any joys? If so why?
I find it really hard to write happy songs about happy themes. I suppose that doesn’t leave much else to talk about other than sadness and substance abuse. I’ve never sat down and gone “right, let’s get them weeping today, let’s really push them to the brink of darkness”, the lyrics just come out that way. I have tried to sit down and write happy songs though. That didn’t end so well. I think “Happy Birthday” came from one of those sessions and that’s miserable as fuck.
I’d love to be able to write a Christmas song that everyone sings along to all drunk and jolly, but I think knowing me it would end up more like “Lonely this Christmas” or Wham or something dire.
What is your song writing and recording process?
My approach to song writing hasn’t really changed in the last 15 years. I have an old beaten up acoustic that I write all of my songs on. It usually starts with a few days of me playing the same few chords over and over and just humming a basic melody. I’ll always record the melody on a phone or anything to hand so that I don’t forget it.
The lyrics tend to come to me at the strangest of times, the shower, the bus to work and sometimes mid conversation which I’m sure my girlfriend has noticed as I will mentally disappear until it’s written down.
With COW I’ll then take a half finished song to our practice room and see if the band have any ideas to throw at it. It doesn’t usually take too long to finish off once the basic structure is there and I’m very lucky with the three of them that we can usually have a finished song ready for performing after three or four sessions.
COW’s recording process is different to any other band I’ve been in before. Web our bassist is also our producer. He has a home studio where I am very at home in and we recorded and mixed almost all of the EP there. We had to record the drum tracks and the guitar solo for Happy Birthday (see below) at a soundproof studio. We couldn’t afford to get Web kicked out of his home so we rented a few hours at a local studio for that.
Once the drums were done it’s usually a matter of recording what we do live, sit on it for a couple of weeks whilst Web gets an initial mix and then see what is still needed to complete the tracks. I love this part of recording. We never really have a plan of what a second, third or even fourth guitar part might be or whether a song needs some additional percussion, but it usually flows naturally and I’m pretty happy with the results.
What are your favourite COW tracks and why? Which ones went down the best with the crowds on your recent tour?
I think I’m the only one who doesn’t really have a favourite track out of all of us. We have a song (not yet recorded) that we call Web’s song. He didn’t write it, it’s just his favourite. I think Doug’s favorites are “A Blank Canvas For Weirdness” (see below) and another of our heavier songs that we refer to as “Jay’s song”.
We call it “Jay’s Song” because he hates playing it. This is slowly getting replaced by newer material but we do still add it at extended sets from time to time.
I’m in the process of finishing off a song that if we can make sound like what it does in my head then possibly that will be my favourite. We’ll see.
“Happy Birthday” always goes down well at gigs and this tour was no exception. People come up to you after a gig and say something like “That last song… oh my god”. I’m always happy to hear feedback from people at our shows but I sometimes feel like cutting that out of the set to see if people still get the same feeling.
I also don’t really talk too much in between songs, but as we were promoting “All My Friends” I felt the need to introduce that song. It got good feedback too, but a part of me wonders if that is just because it’s the only song that people know the title of.
For a new band with a limited back catalogue you appear to have received widespread early recognition, with invites to festivals, blog love and coverage by some of the bigger names in radioworld…what do you think is about a new band like COW that is already appealing to the indie crowd?
I personally wouldn’t say we’ve received widespread early recognition, but I am eternally grateful for the support we have received.
In Liverpool we seem to have struck a chord with Getintothis.co.uk. They have championed us, reviewed our gigs, promoted our video, and put us in touch with other events and bands. I’m very grateful for their support and from the Liverpool bands and musicians that seem to dig what we do.
We’ve also built up a bit of a network here so we know the right people to send a track to (BBC Adam Walton, Smithdown Road Festival, Focus Wales). This has come from years and years of playing in other bands and making connections with promoters, writers, bands, radio DJs etc.
What have been your best and worse gigs and why?
All four of us can come of stage and say completely different things about the experience so I think that could depend on our individual performances on the night.
There have been a couple where all of us have enjoyed the gig and everything seemed to click. A couple worth mentioning are October’s Smithdown Road Festival. We were asked to curate a stage which meant we got to play with a load of our mates (Bill Nickson, Eitha Da, Beachcomber) and everything just clicked. We played in Nantwich at the Salty Dog which was a great night. We were supported by The Good Host so this was an extra special one.
Our most recent gig supporting Ali Horn was probably my personal favourite. We were honoured to be asked by Ali to support him so we really put in a performance. My Mum who lives in Australia was in the crowd too which made the night more personal for me.
As for bad gigs, we’ve all had one or two, just thankfully not all on the same night.
You are a new act that has embraced the ‘digital only world’ for your debut EP. Is this the way the music world is going or do you think that physical release still has a place, other than satisfying the needs of a trip down memory lane for the middle aged?
I’d be lying if I said I only wanted to release our EP digitally. We’d have loved a physical release but unfortunately as we self-released this EP we couldn’t afford to release it on vinyl.
I completely stand by physical releases still being relevant, there’s just a whole new culture to the way people buy them. Unfortunately, there are way too many record shops closing down across the UK. This isn’t down to some kid streaming his favourite band on Spotify.
That kid probably pays £9.99 a month for the privilege which is way more than I could afford when I was young. That kid will probably continue to pay Spotify his monthly fee, yet the band and artists will see hardly any of that unless they are streaming somewhere in the millions. That kid will probably go to a show or two a year though and I bet he’ll buy a t shirt or a record on his way out.
Record shops are closing down because of the way people buy their products in general. It’s become too easy and cheap for someone to click a few buttons and have an album delivered to their door the very next day. Shops on the high street can’t afford to keep going because of the pure greed by local councils raising the taxes and forcing small independent shops out of business.
Unfortunately, this will continue to happen unless more fierce rules are put in place to help protect our local shops, artists and communities.
What are the difficulties for a new act in today’s musical world. Would you say that such difficulties may have changed over the last 20 years or so?
I think the overheads of an unsigned band are significantly higher these days. The market is saturated and unless you are something extremely special you are going to have to pay to get yourself heard. I constantly see adverts on Instagram and facebook asking me to pay $25 to get my song across to 1000+ people. I simply won’t do it. If my music is good enough it will find it’s audience.
With this though it’s never been easier to discover new bands and I think that’s something positive to take from all the shit that comes along with it.
We give you the famous Janglepophub time machine and invite you to go back in time to any decade where success would be guaranteed. What decade would you visit and what would success look like for you?
I’ll try and answer this on behalf of all of us. Sorry guys if I’ve got it all wrong.
Me – The Seattle Grunge scene, in particular the Nirvana gig at The Paramount. I’d loved to have shared a stage with those guys.
Jay – I’ve not heard Jay mention too many bands other than The Beatles and I think he’d have fitted in well on the roof of The Apple Building with them.
Web – The New York Folk scene of the 1960s. His solo stuff wouldn’t be out of place in Greenwich village.
Doug – I think he’s pretty happy being in our band and drumming in general, but I suppose it would be by my side in Seattle where he’d be most comfortable.
What is next for COW?
We’ve got some gigs early on in the year to look forward to. We never got to play any Summer festivals last year so I’d like to hope we can play one or two of them. We’ll be recording again in May and I’m currently in the process or booking a tour for September/October to support that release.
Maybe I’ll finally have that Christmas song written in time for December. Probably not though.
Thanks for chatting Kyle…looking forward to the May release!