Somojo Magazine

Strawhouses

Discography
Runaway Child (EP) – September 2008
A Good Night Out (Single) – April 2009
Malaise (Single) – June 2010
Batteries (Single) – May 2011
These Are The Willing (Album) - released June 6th 2011

Hi guys, how are you?
Very well indeed thank you … rather excited about getting our album out there and heard!  

Would you mind introducing us to your band members?
We have Justin Bieber look-a-like Chris Smith on lead guitar and backing vocals, Policeman Michael Bradshaw on bass and bvs and fresh faced Danny Quirk on drums. I'm Paul and I front the band and am the chief songwriter.

How long has the current band line up been together?
Well Danny joined this summer so not that long! But the band has been releasing music since 2007/8 and it's mostly the album tracks that we recorded with  Stuart, our first drummer, so it's still very much the same incarnation of the band. We use the Runaway Child EP release as a zero point really as that's when it became more serious, with touring and writing.

How did you meet each other?
Chris and I met at uni, Michael (Brad) came with Stuart who I'd found by advertising for a drummer – Danny, who replaced Stuart was from a local band and our producer Jon Withnall recommended him to us when we knew Stuart was leaving.

How did you come up with the band name?
It's all about how uncertain everyday life is. We carry on our daily lives with a false sense of security not thinking about the gigantic elephants that are sitting in the room – everything politically and economically is always hanging by a thread as far as I can see it – for example, the band name was decided years before the recent recession, but that was exactly the sort of thing it summed up – we all live in straw houses, there is always a wolf at the door, things are built to collapse, and there's always people in power that control our destiny. The fact that we allow this to be the case makes us the 'wiling'- and that's where the track and subsequent album title came from – 'These Are The Willing'.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
It's quite euphoric really – for all of our posturing and moody glares at the camera in photoshoots, we're just wanting to belt out some big choruses. The music itself can be quite angular and unnerving, but then there's generally that release of a powerful chorus or guitar instrumental that makes it uplifting.
In short – it's angular indie rock.

What music did you listen to while growing up?
For me it was a real mixture, my sister used to play a lot of dance music, but she'd also play Talking Heads, REM and Neil Young, so I reckon that's how I've gotten my music taste. Chris and Michael had quite metal based roots – as well as any intricate or fast guitar work – which shows now in their respective fret mastery! Danny was a Blink 182 fan I believe...so there's a lot of influences that go in to the melting pot – there's a lot that goes on in the songs and sometimes the only thing that ties them into a common sound is the production and my voice.

Which artist or track inspired you to want to make music yourself?
I think when I started playing guitar, pretty soon after I got into Ocean Colour Scene and subsequently Radiohead and I loved the idea of being a songwriter and being in a band. I remember trying to ape America's Horse With No Name for one of my earliest songs.

When was the ‘I want to do that!’ moment?
For me it was pretty much as I was writing my first song, some 10 years ago! I've literally never shaken the hunger that I got from the first moment I imagined playing my songs to people. Obviously there's been a lot of shifting and development along the way, a number of years in the wilderness and a good few epiphanies, but it's just been a constant desire to make music really.

What was the last music you put on your ipod or mp3 player?
Other than our own music for video-shooting purposes, the last thing I listened to was the Pixies. However, I'm really getting into internet radio stations at the moment – The Lake 1077 is amazing, they play some real gems, and of course more locally based stations like Amazing radio who have been immensely supportive of us.

What have you been up to recently?
A lot of preparation. We designed the website and are putting the final tweaks to that – and we've been doing photoshoots and video shoots in a really cool studio in Hallam Mill in Stockport. We've also been booking in shows and talking to lovely people like yourselves.

What can your fans look forward to in the next 12 months?
As I mentioned- we've been working on our website – that's because we want to sell our album via it. We've set it up so that people will be able to pay £1 (plus a little postage) and we will send them a physical copy of the album through the post. The plan is just to get the album out to as many people as possible, so we're literally only covering the costs of manufacture. We've just released Batteries as a single from the album, and I'm guessing we'll release another single in September or October too.

What is your current equipment?
We're a very telecaster based band, and why the hell not?! Chris has two beautiful telecasters – a deluxe and one he's pieced together from parts off the internet. He's also got a lovely Gretsch, a whole board of effects, with all the normal pedals that you'd expect including a Rat Distortion, an Akai Headrush, Boss Reverbs/ Delays/ Tuners, Marshall Jackhammer, Boss SD-1 overdrive, RV-3 reverb/delay, Vox time machine all powered by a T-Rex fuel tank. He puts all this through a Vox AC30.
I principally use a telecaster deluxe with the two humbuckers for that bit of extra beef, through a standard set of distortion pedals and Fender amp. I also use a beautiful jumbo Crafter acoustic. Michael uses a Fender P-Bass through a Hartke Ha2500 and a 'rarely used' Big Muff distortion and Danny plays a sonor kit.


Do you have a favourite piece of musical kit that you couldn’t live without?
Chris has a violin bow and ebow that he'd hate to leave at home, and Michael has some dodgy leads which he'd hate to be replaced. Why would anyone want a gig without technical difficulties?!  Danny always takes his shoes off to play his kit – little known fact there. It's mostly Chris really – his pedal board and amp sound is what makes most of our signature sounds so it'd be difficult to do a gig without the pedals he's collected and arranged, whereas Michael and I could get away with borrowing some standard gear. We're not a laptop band though so there's never anything that's missing from the sound, as long as all of the members are there with their kit!

If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
Everything! I'd love a new amp and guitars. No, I wouldn't go nuts – I'd just want another nice acoustic and telecaster and a Vox AC30 or Fender Twin. I just can't afford those things at the moment – all of the money I make that goes on the band is used to release the records and arrange studios for photoshoots etc. I have a feeling Chris would turn up to every gig with a new guitar if he had an unlimited budget! He wants a Rickenbacher 381V69, a Martin acoustic, a black vintage tele, pedals coming out of his ears and a guy to set it all up for him!
Michael would like Aguilar amplification and a Fender Jazz to compliment his minor collection of precisions. Danny would like a Ludwig Kit, Zildjan K Cymbals with DW hardware and Vic Firth American A classic sticks.
It's backline that we need to update really. It'd be good for us to be able to set up a pro tools rig in our rehearsal room too so that we could record rehearsals effectively. A van too.  Why, are you offering? ;)

Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
Yes absolutely – I think Michael might have used a huge ampeg amp that belonged to Highfield studios when recording his bass but that would have been about it. Some of the synth sounds that sit very quietly in the mix would have been from Jon's (Jon Withnall, producer/engineer) moog and soft synth library, but we don't use synths live anyway – it was only for the odd hammond sound to add a little warmth to the mix.

Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
We've absolutely tried hard to recreate the live experience and I think that shows. Producer Jon had a thing about making sure the record wasn't filled with unnecessary overdubs and that it was just about the sounds that we as four human beings can make together, and I'm really pleased about that. What I really want to do for the next set of recordings is record as live as possible – I think you can hear the difference. That's the way everyone used to record and there was never really a problem with that was there?!

How much involvement do you have with the arranging and production of the songs when recording?
Well because we organised the album recording pretty much ourselves, with only the help of Jon Withnall, we had 90% control over the arrangements – and probably more say on the mixes than we would have normally got. I'm pleased we did because it made it very close to what we wanted things to sound like. The only problem with the band having so much say on how a record is made is that there will be different opinions from within the band and then who is to say who is right? That's when you need your producer to step in, and Jon was always great for that.

Is the production side of things something you’d like to get involved more in the future, maybe working with other artists?
What I really want is for us to return to recording as live as possible and taking things from there really – I don't want it to be much more produced than that. Bands can be far too over produced – look at the Kings Of Leon – they record live in the studio and as soon as they come on the radio they stick out a mile because there's more energy and breathing space than any other record that's on there. When every beat is quantized and edited, you might have the most perfect recording ever, but does that make your song better? You can't fake energy.

Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
It does get easier in a way- because you know what you want from what you're doing and (mostly) how to get there – however, the fact that you've done it before means there's something to beat and so, personally, I panic and am always comparing what we're doing to what we've done. The lads love the recording part – the buzz of being in a studio and for them the process generally lasts for the initial recording session and then mixes start turning up for them to judge – whereas I've been the most heavily involved with the mixing and the after process of being in a studio so I guess that's why I feel less enamored with it. I think also because it's my baby and I'll have demoed the songs when the were first written, I always feel a pressure to get the absolute best out of what we're doing. I think that's why I really want to start getting as much down live as possible as it would vastly reduce the length of time it takes to record a song and therefore the energy would still feel like it was there during mixing.

Do you have any new recordings planned?
Yes – we're demoing about 6 new tracks just on my portastudio at the moment and it'd be lovely to go into the studio in September and knock them out as live as possible. The second album is written as far as I'm concerned, but we've not arranged everything yet.

Which are your favourite original tracks?
Of ours? My favourite has always been Malaise as it's the heart of what we do – that uneasiness and feeling of alienation is summed up well in that song. I also really like Runaway Child and the best recordings from the album are Batteries and Train Wreck so it'd probably be between those!

Who are your favourite songwriters?
I have a hell of a lot of time for Neil Young, Tom Waits and David Bowie, obviously Radiohead are a massive influence and I love the way The Smiths wrote. It's hard to say really – I think currently the best lyricist around is Guy Garvey, as, just like Morrissey did with The Smiths, he's perfected a kitchen sink style humble patter which never seems to get old.  

Who are the main songwriters for the band?
I write all the lyrics and the main ideas for the songs will come from me. The band will then arrange the tracks.

Do you have a set routine when writing and recording or does it depend on each track and the inspiration?
Each track and the inspiration. Sometimes the fact that a beat inspires you to write a song is where the song will come from – most of the time I'll be playing with something on the guitar or piano and a lyric will pop out – and I have my lyric books that I constantly update to fill out the blanks. Sometimes we'll come up with something in rehearsals and I'll take it home and flesh it out. I just don't think you can demo a satisfactory arrangement with four people making noise!

Do you have a method for writing songs?
No, it's best not to. I find that the best method to have is not to have a method – just to try and constantly be creative and do things in a different way to the way you've done them.

Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
It's a challenge to top what you've done – and to continue to come up with original ideas, but for the most part, the writing part is easy. I tend to go with what I'm doing and then judge it later rather than get hung up and slowed down at the time.

Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
At the moment I'm more interested in collaborating with someone on a producer level – see what Tom Waits or David Byrne would do with our production and how they'd change our songs!

Would you sign with a major record company?
Absolutely we would. There is little option I feel these days if you want to get noticed quickly – because there's almost too much opportunity with the internet, there seems to be less opportunity because everyone is doing it. We're working on the basis that at some point we will sign to a big independent or a major.

Which countries have you gigged in?
Only around the UK currently – England & Scotland - but we'd love to change that and very soon. I've played a solo show in Spain but that wasn't with the band and it's not the same!

Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
Germany, Holland, France. I think we'd be more appreciated in Europe than we are here!

Who would you like to tour with?
Who wouldn't I like to tour with! I'm in love with The Villagers album at the moment, so it'd be amazing to tour with them. Opening for any of our heroes would be an honour!

How do you promote your music and get your music out to new fans?
We do low-fi videos and podcasts which I guess are as much for us as for fans, and I think youtube is brilliant for that – we've done a 'new year broadcast' for the past four years and it's a tradition which has seen our methods of 'broadcasting' improve year on year. We always keep on top of the myfaces and such, have flyers and CDs at gigs and from time to time do a mailing list.

Which music promotion websites do you use and do you have a favourite?
At the moment we're mostly using Facebook and I'm just getting into Reverbnation, which has a whole wealth of possibilities. Historically we used myspace when it was more popular – we kept a daily blog for a very long time and it's interesting to look back through that from time to time. But Facebook is the most direct for us to speak to the people who are interested in us.

Do you think such sites and the internet are good tools for independent and unsigned artists?
Yes and no. What happened to the days when there would be a buzz about a band in the city and the only way to satisfy curiosity was to go and see them? And there'd be shoddy bootlegs knocking round on tape and that would be the only way to hear the band? No one can matter like that any more – people would love the mystery and get attached at grass roots level and the buzz would grow and audiences would swell. Now, everything is laid on a plate for everyone and the market is grossly over saturated. Obviously it's great that at the touch of a button people can hear your music – but I feel that because it's so easy it takes away the mystery and the desire to find out more.  

With such a variety of similar websites that exist now for independent artist to promote music, is there something missing from them that you would like to see?
Not really, I think they've got all the bases covered- as I say – I think it's over saturated as it is. I think when you've got sites like Reverbnation and Tunecore that enable an artist to sell their music within hours of uploading it, we're as direct to consumer as we're going to get.  You have Twitter for our every thought, Myspace for gig dates and music, Facebook to judge how many real people actually like your music and youtube for people to see your face. What I'm really into is the internet radio stations that help unsigned artists – but then, I wouldn't want many more of them to crop up. It takes away the special feeling of affiliating with one.

What is your opinion on ‘battle of the bands’ competitions?
I'm not a fan when you're judged on how many tickets you can sell for the promoters. Other than that, it's a bit of fun I guess. It's not something I go looking for us to do a lot.

What's your best/worst experience at a gig?
Best experience has to be Mathew Street when we played to around 2000 people. Dave Monks, our local BBC introducing DJ, set it up for us and we're eternally grateful. Our worst gig experience would probably be when Chris and Stuart got caught in traffic and missed the gig, so I played solo!

Do you get nervous before a gig? How do you calm down?
As long as I feel prepared I don't get nervous – so to make sure I do feel prepared, I do yoga and run through half a dozen songs, incrementally increasing the difficulty of the singing. Other than that we're always looking for nice toilets before a gig. Gross.

Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
Not yet but that's something I'd love to do. A few years ago, I did a creepy piano cover of Teddy Bears' Picnic for an independent student film.

Is composing for film or tv something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
Absolutely. We never pass anything like that up – I love the idea of our music being used for TV and Film, it brings another side to the song when it's against images.

Is there anything you'd like to add?
Just to make sure you check out our videos on youtube, visit Strawhouses.tv and buy our album, but most importantly, to come see us live!!!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
My pleasure, thanks for having us!

 

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