Part 1: Of sweets and alcohol.
It’s a rainy Thursday in the outskirts of Brown Street, the Rutland Arms, to be precise. It’s been an interview that a couple of people at the site have been talking about for a while. Since I’ve seen the band live before (and since I’m disposable, apparently!), Quinto and Misky ask me to carry the interview.
I enter the pub and get a pint of ale and sit in a stool that reminds me of my days in Catholic School. While I go over the questions for the band, I draw some doodles on a notebook. Right on cue and on the exact time, 3 members of Smokers Die Younger enter. James Goldthorpe (Vocals, Guitar) recognises me and we talk about where to do the interview. Amy (Vocals, Harpsichord) goes out to the beer garden with a couple of paper towels and Ian (Bass, Vocals) is doing the thankless task of carrying the pints.
After my usual bullshit excuse about not having a dictaphone, we sit around on the half humid seats of the beer garden…
Sloucher: Who would want to talk a bit about the band history?
James: It’s a long story, it started six or seven years ago, but it was a different line up. Amy came and went, also the original drummers and the bass player, Ian joined at some point. It became cobbled together over the years (laughs). But we did start in 2003. I had a few songs kicking around, me and this guy Chris who used to play drums with us started getting a band together, so it was us with Rhys (keyboards) and Amy, we did the first album, then Amy left for a couple of years, she came back, we started recording the second album, Ian joined the band halfway through. Chris left the band and now we have Neil from Hexa playing drums for us. That’s kinda of who we are now. Makes any sense?
Amy: Yeah, that brings us up to speed (!)
Sloucher: Before I forget, if at any time you want to take the mick out of the interview, go ahead (all laugh). We have a sense of humour! We don’t take ourselves too seriously!
Amy: I don’t believe you.
Sloucher: What? C’mon, we have a webcomic with a frog!
Amy: We have a song about a frog! But it’s a very serious song!
Sloucher: Well, this frog isn’t serious…
Ian: Oh, that sounds very serious (!) (all laugh)
Sloucher: Yeah, like “It’s coming straight for us”. The most romantic line in the history (which goes: “I don’t fucking love you/I just love fucking you/And it’s a fucking shame“).
Ian: They play it at weddings.
Sloucher: Would any one like to talk about their influences? Not only music, but also films and books?
Amy: June Carter, of course.
Ian: We all are inspired by different things. I like a lot of electronic music but I don’t like other stuff that other people like. So it kinda works by we all do different things and combine different ideas.
Amy: That’s a cheap answer, real like, we all like stuff and go on tangents. James is sort of mid nineties grunge, Ian is electronic, I’m country and bluegrass.
Ian: That’s right, early nineties pre britpop indie.
Amy: Fifties swing and…
Ian: Rock and roll.
Amy: Rhys likes Indie music, proper britpop indie music and Neil is a bit of an enigma, really. We don’t even know what he likes! (laughs)
Sloucher: You could make it up…
Amy: We totally should. He likes… happy hard core!
James: With jazz punk.
Amy: Yeah, a mash up!
James: Electroclash (!)
Amy: He needs some big fat beats. That’s how he rolls. He’s big daddy pimping.
Ian: There’s quite a lot of influences, quite varied, but places were they cross over. Like the Nick Cave kinda stuff…
Ian: Yes, Pixies crossed over with Flaming Lips.
Amy: All the really happy music. All the joyous tunes (!)
Amy: We totally love Phoenix. I love French pop as well.
James: We are all fanatical musical fans. Large collections of very varied stuff.
Amy: James sometimes DJs, I run nights too.
Sloucher: Here’s another question you can take the mick at: Define your sound.
Amy (laughs for about 15 seconds): There’s a comprehensive sound byte on Myspace about us being “ASBOmatic post-indie wankathons”.
James: It was on the review for the first album, I think Norman Records did it. That’s what they called us. We stuck with it. Maybe meant it as an insult, but it’s funny.
Amy: It’s genius as well, we put it on our last.fm page and somebody said “that is the most pretentious band description they’ve ever read” and somebody else replied “sure, but I like them”. That’s sweet, we didn’t write that, but it’s sweet.
Ian: It’s pretentious music by idiots.
Amy: Idiots trying to be pretentious while trying not to be pretentious.
Sloucher: I think I wrote that “I like them”…
Ian, James : (laugh)
Sloucher: I should edit that out (of the interview).
Amy: No! Keep it in! I insist. If you don’t, I’ll write a letter to your editors.
Sloucher: They might be too drunk to answer you.
Amy: They will understand what I’m typing then.
Ian: In a lot of the songs it’s got a straight indie song, but in a warped kind of way, some elements of country coming up here and there. When you think something is going to go on one way, we just twist it.
Amy: It’s like a bag of mixed sweets, and then you get one of those horrible fried eggs. Or those pink shrimps! I hate those!
Sloucher: You could blend them…
Ian: I like the shrimps!
Amy: Oh no! It’s all about Cherry Lips, oh yeah.
Sloucher: No, really, if you blend the shrimp ones with vodka, it’ really good. (All laugh). But I was drunk, so my barometer might be wrong…
Ian: If you eat Haribo with Stella, it has the same effect as ecstasy. (all laugh)
Sloucher: I gotta try it.
Ian: You get all these legal highs. Eat handfuls of starmix while drinking Stella. You’ll be tripping the light.
Amy: Or gummy bears.
Sloucher: You could use the sour ones for Tequila if you don’t have lime and salt.
Amy: Yeah, just pop it in there.
James: The colourful pick and mix, fruit flavoured ones!
Ian: Our band rider will have sugar and alcohol.
Sloucher: I’ll try it when I get home! So, stupid question from me: Is it fair to say that the change from X wants to meat and Smokers die younger it’s a bit drastic, maybe the album is more mellower?
Amy: Well, it’s four years in between, isn’t it?
James: It’s a long gap between albums. The band tastes changed, our lives changed. The hardest stuff, we got it out of our system.
Amy: There’s stuff that was brewing up through the years. The change between somebody when he’s 21 and then to 28, might not be obvious, but you change that much in that time.
James: I do feel like we got a lot of stuff out of the way that we wanted to do on the first album, we’ve done that, so there’s no need to repeat ourselves any more.
Amy: We are not that angry any more.
James: I wanted to say that!
Ian: We’re angry, but got some tact.
Sloucher: A repressed anger?
Ian: The older you get, the more experienced in music you get and you are able to leave some bigger gaps, you don’t feel to clutter stuff with loud or shout that much. In “Holler if you hear me”, it starts really sparse, but other bands would need to fill it up with noises, spruce it up.
Amy: I also wanted to play an instrument and I was nagging them! So I got the autoharp and play a little bit.
James: We’ve got a much bigger palette for the band. We’ve got Katherine on violin and Amy on autoharp so we can do bigger pictures.
Ian: And see what really doesn’t work as well(!)
James: The first album is like hitting someone with a club, and this one is more effective, like a dagger!
Amy: (giggles) Like “Audition”.
Sloucher. So, first album Jason, second album American Psycho?
Amy: You could say that…
Ian: I dunno, probably more “Blow up”.
Ian: The film “Blow up”. Quite different that first time around, more atmospheric, more artistic sort of stuff.
Amy: So, we are like Vanessa Redgrave now? What were we before? (laughs)
Ian: Lola Ferrari? (all laugh)
James: Yeah, we were massive tits.
Ian: So, yeah, that’s the biggest change (!)
Sloucher: Would you like to talk about your gigs at France?
James: We are really excited about them [playing at Sons du Nord]. We played in 2006 in the festival, we had a great time, met good people. Came back in 2007, did a little tour, went to Paris and a few towns. This time we are going back to headline the festival we helped to start so it’s really nice.
Amy: Also Pierre (organiser) was in Smokers Die Younger (laughs). He came over to Sheffield, he wanted to do a festival and ended up joining the band.
Ian: Yes, we had a French bass player for a while.
James: Really exciting going back. We had a very warm reception in Europe.
Amy: I think everyone gets it. People in Europe are more excited by bands. We’re really spoiled. We do like to play abroad.
Ian: My first trip proper was when we went to Norway, had to get a passport before I joined the band!
Amy: Well, that’s something you got out of us anyway!
James: It’s nice to go out and play and meet new people.
Amy: And since they speak another language, you can’t tell if they think you are shit! So you are “yeah, yeah, you’re great, awesome, fantastic!” and you can just fuck off and pretend everything is alright.
James: Playing the same place like Sheffield, well, you can’t play too much because they don’t get much out of it and we don’t get much out of it. Playing something new is much more exciting.
Ian: And challenging!
Ian: In my mind, they all hate us.
Amy: Frenchies love us!
James: We are also in this compilation by this guy from Chanel, which was very bizarre for us, as we are not the most fashion conscious of bands, apart from Amy!
Amy: Ian is wearing a tie! It might have belonged at Natwest at some point!
Amy: I wouldn’t get any more benefits in the book so I had to get a bank account. Oh, bloody government!
Amy: I didn’t exist until then. (!)
(To be continued…)
Words and pics: Sam
About the author: He survived. So far.