One sunny afternoon at the Fat Cat…

Interview – The Hope Explosion

It was Record Store day and after getting a few treats, I joined the lovely chaps of The Hope Explosion at the Fat Cat in Kelham Island for a spot of ales, sunshine and a chat. Rob (Vocals/guitar), Robin (Guitar/vocals) and Lee (Drums/vocals) were outside in the patio, waiting for the interview.

After getting the camera-passing-as-a-dictaphone on and setting some chairs in a makeshift circle, the interview started. A couple of people around were peeking around, with an old lady muttering “are they on telly?”.

Tell us a bit about the origin of the name The Hope Explosion.

Rob: We just wanted something really positive. We went through loads! It’s as simple as a explosion of hope.

Lee: It’s sums it up really. We’ve been doing it for a while. We’ve been through bands. There was a point when we were scratching our heads thinking, and then realised it didn’t matter that much really, there’s some ridiculous names.

Robin: It’s quite easy to choose something that is almost neutral, something that is transferable to everybody. Some thing that people read and feel ok about it.

Would you like to mention some of your influences?

Lee: There isn’t one in particular, just having no bass player!

Rob: (laughs) Yeah we had to adapt. There’s a ridiculous amount of influences. Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin, Pavement, Pixies

Lee: I’m massively influenced by Metallica. Back in the day I heard them all day.

Rob: Not only rock, though.

Robin: Bands like R.E.M. that actually write songs. Nothing better than a classic with lyrics and a good hook.

Rob: Singer-songwriters too. Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith. We don’t sound anything like them, but we aspire to be as good as. That’s important, trying to be good, not just do what you can, but actually try to do better.

Fun times at rehearsal

Kinda evil question: What do you think of the current situation of Reality TV vs Artists that actually write/compose/play.

Lee: I could rant about this about hours (laugh). I hate it. I can’t stand it. I could really talk about it for hours.

(All silent).

Robin, Rob: (Laughter).

Lee: There’s not enough memory on that camera!

(More laughter)

Lee: I really dislike it. People are being told what to listen to. Kids growing up, having things forced to them through TV and stuff. It’s entertaining to watch, but music is an artform and this is akin to paint the same picture again and again. There’s loads and loads of bands just in Sheffield. If you go and look,  there’s several bands all around that make stuff that is progressive, taking music in different directions. There’s a load of crap, though…

Rob: Yeah

Lee: But there’s a lot of gems that are not going to be discovered. At the same time, there would be no money involved. Big artists and X-Factor and all these pop groups that are manufactured they create so much money, it’s the only chance bands like us might have a chance to get a record deal. It needs to be there, but it’s boring.

Robin: It’s sad because it reflects society in the fact that big corporations are taking over small ones. You see it on  bars and high street shops, everything becomes so generic and music shouldn’t become a part of that. [Music] should be stretching society.

Rob: (nods agreeing)

Robin: Music is reflecting that.

Lee: It’s sad that it’s not untouchable like an artist that paints or sculpts. No one can control that. But with music, they found a way to control it. And it’s all about money, innit?

What do you think about the local scene in Sheffield?

Rob: I think it’s really good at the moment! There’s some bad stuff, but it’s countered by how great others are.

Lee: It’s picking up again here on Sheffield, with stuff like Tramlines festival. There’s a bit of a buzz around certain bands, which is good for the local scene

Rob: I like Plushandplastix, they are fucking brilliant. We played with Violet May, who were great. Also Wet Nuns (laughter), absolute genius! Sheffield generates enough interest, let’s hope they get some attention, they deserve it.

Any plans for an upcoming album?

Robin: To give it justice it needs some kind of funding.

Lee: We got the songs for it!

Rob: It’s difficult when no one knows who you are. We don’t want to waste the songs. I don’t mean that recording them is a waste, but we want people to listen to them. We want to go mental on it, do a job on it, but I don’t think it would find an audience.

Lee: I would be a shame to put it down and have it sitting around for ages. It would be much better to record it fresh and put it out. Some songs are still evolving, even if they are finished. Little bits are changing.

Robin: There’s no point in doing something unless you are not doing it right. It means spending a lot of time in the studio. Making an album from start to finish, one constant piece.

Lee: A couple of the weeks in the studio would be fine. If anyone is reading this, please, two weeks in the studio!

(All laugh)

Lee: We’ll have an album.

This is a kinda technical question from one of us. Favourite effect, guitar guys?

Robin: The Electro-Harmonix POG, masters of distortion! With a hollow body one turned to excessive levels of volume.

Rob: We could get really fucking geeky and talk about this for hours. We love our ridiculousness! The one pedal I couldn’t live without is just a fulltone fulldrive, which is just a distortion, but without it… well, it’s my core sound. I love making stupid noises!

Robin: Tying into the influences that we talked about, there’s Smashing Pumpkins. There’s something beautiful about them being able to go from such a subdued, soft,  beautiful sound to something nasty, gritty and over the top. That’s one thing we take from them. Not as much the songwriting, but the journeys they can take you with the range of sounds.

What about the influence for drumming?

Lee: John Bonham, every step of the way! The more I read about him, how he got his sounds, how he would tune his drums, the more intrigued I am. If I can get within a hundredth of what he got, then I’d be very happy. Ah, there’s so many drummers. Lars Ulrich was the reason I started playing drums. Also, there was this guy, Joe, on a band called Slipstream and I fell in love with his drums. He used to whack them so hard.

(All laugh)

Lee: He had a black Premier drumkit, two kick drums, nine toms, five cymbals and he was all over. That made me want to play drums, so in a strange way, he’s my biggest influence. But for sound and rhythm, John Bonham. He’s the man.

What do you think about the album experience? Is it still there or dead and buried?

Rob: I hope it wasn’t dead. I think, err, an album is an essential piece of a musician’s artillery. When I was growing up, I absolutely loved getting an album. I just consumed it! Everything about it. It’s not just about the music. It’s about reading every lyric, where it was recorded, who recorded it, if they list what equipment they used. Just drank it in. And the fact that it’s something tangible.

Robin: An artwork.

Rob: I love it when people make an effort with albums. The artwork, the way it looks.

Robin: One of the key things about music is remembering when you hear one of those classic albums or songs, you were in your bed, put your headphones and fell in love with an album. You don’t get that much with a single or a download or a stream. Whereas in ten years time you can even look at your cd collection and see an album and evoke an emotion about that time when you got it. I don’t get that with streams.

Rob: You pick an album from your collection, take out the cd and look at it: it’s scratched to fuck and you know you hammered it! You absolutely hammered the album! (laughs)

Robin: I love that!

Lee: With a download you can’t open the book and go along with the lyrics.

Rob: I don’t do it as much as I used to, it’s a shame. I used to take everything in.

Lee: And about the instruments they used, you find out who sponsored them!

(All laugh).

Robin: The positive thing about the online availability is that you are allowed to find bands you’ve never heard of. You can hunt for bands.

Rob: Anybody wants another drink?

(All laugh)

Okay, so, live shows versus recordings?

Lee: Live shows is where it’s all about!

Robin: Mogwai. There’s nothing like Mogwai. Seeing that band live is an out of body experience. I creates all types of feelings.

Rob: It’s so difficult. It’s two complete different things. It’s hard to be good at both of them! Sometimes a live band, it just doesn’t transfer to recordings. It’s a fine line. We want to wow people when they come and see us, ah, I’m just rambling (laughs).

Lee: You get to see what a band really is like live. You can hide stuff in albums. But not live, it’s raw. Even a dance band, when they play live with a full band, it’s totally different, definitely.

You already have a couple of followers in Mexico and now some in Turkey, any words to them?

Rob: We’ll take fans wherever we can get! No one knows who we are, so anyone who is positive about us is fucking mindblowing. “Really? You like us? Wow!”

Lee: It’s rewarding that someone likes what you do. It feels really good.

Robin: We want to write music that we absolutely love. If other people like it, fucking brilliant!

After the interview, the band invites me for their rehearsal. Some of the songs they already master are given a go, kickstarting with ‘Talk is cheap’. Maybe a few things are tweaked in and out, experimenting on them for a bit. Some new songs are also tried out, testing different chords, effects and drum patters, concatenating them and waiting for the sparks and the musical alchemy to occur.

The session last three hours and on the casualty list are a couple of ear plugs, a drum stick (you can see it on one of the pictures) and two bottles of horribly warm fizzy water.

On the way back, Rob puts some music and the first bass notes of Mad Season’s ‘Wake up’ start creeping on the radio. We talk a bit more about 90s icons and how they left a mark in our generation. Alice in Chains and their magnificent unplugged get a shout.

After saying goodbye, I wait for the tram for a few minutes and when I sit down, I start miming Layne Staley.


Links for The Hope Explosion:

Facebook. Myspace.

Get a free track from the band from the Sloucher Mix CD!


About the author : Record Store Day should receive more media attention. Special thanks to all members of The Hope Explosion for the alcohol recommendations.

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