Part 3: The fickle finger of the current scene and passing out at The Washington…
After a slight detour through the realm of cult television, Smokers Die Younger are persuaded to go back into the subject of music. Bribes were involved.
Sloucher: Sorry to bring anyone down, another question. Is the album experience alive or dead or is it just singles now?
James: A bit of both, really. We are more of an album making band, we want to get a full range of emotions into a record. There’s nothing wrong with a singles culture either. There’s group for both of them. People are [too] concerned about the downloading stuff.
Amy: People put a lot of crap filler around too, isn’t it? If every song in your album is a winner, you don’t have anything to worry about it, people will get it. If you only release 4 good singles but the rest is shit filler, see Britney Spears first album: awful!
Ian: Even worse is that people judge a whole album by a single.
Amy: If all your songs are great, then why worry? And we consider all our songs are awesome! (laughs).
James: Ash said they were only going to make singles now.
Amy: If you want to make a concept album, like a rock opera, you need the whole thing. It doesn’t work as a download thing, does it? You’re better off buying it on a vinyl.
James: Horses for courses. If you want to make an album, do it. But you shouldn’t discriminate if people want to do singles. The world’s changed and people need to stop worrying about it. There’s a lot of good music being made. Both worlds can co-exist, we can take some stuff from single artists and album bands.
Amy: It has eradicated the b-side culture, which I always loved.
Ian: The dumping ground of shit music (!)
Amy: That’s were you could judge a band if it was good or not, if [the b-sides] were three shitty remixes or something unreleased. Often I liked the b-sides more, maybe because I’m an obscurist or because they weren’t overplayed. Pulp did great B-sides. The re-release of “His and hers”? I liked the b-sides best.
James: You could make great mixtapes with b-sides. Grabbing bits and pieces and put them together in one thing, people like that.
Sloucher: I still do that!
Ian: A mate still has a tape player on his car and every time it gets jammed, we just need to rewind it. Every 5 weeks in, get a pencil in to get it out!
James: That culture hasn’t changed. You get the odd songs you want and make a mix out of it.
Ian: Gil Scott-Heron’s new album, if you buy it on cd, the sleeve has instructions of what to do while you are listening to the album. “Don’t skip anything”. “Turn off your mobile”. “Take your shoes off”. “Wipe your bum”.
Amy: Pulp had one that says “don’t read the lyrics while listening” to it.
Ian: I paid for it, I’ll do what I want!
Amy: I read them!
James: People like to grumble too much about changes. The only thing that changes is how you do it.
Ian: People worry too much about downloading. As long as it’s funding things properly… well, it’s easier for bands to make things, but maybe can’t make as much money.
Amy: To balance it out, gigs are more popular than ever.
Ian: More expensive as well.
Amy: People are more willing to pay 40 pounds to see a band. And that wouldn’t happen when I was 15. If you were going to see a big band like Blur or Pulp, you paid like 20 pounds for a ticket at the Arena, it was a big thing. Now it’s a once in a month thing. And now you can make more from merchandising too. Probably more on that than what you get from the recording.
James: The smaller bands, well, there’s no way for people ’round the world to listen to us if there weren’t any downloads.
Amy: We wouldn’t have been heard if there weren’t any downloads. We wouldn’t get fans in Brazil or Europe. So it’s good, it means we get to go on holiday (laughs).
Ian: Yes, chasing people downloading our music illegally. (cackles)
James: Knocking on their door (laughs).
Amy: If anybody leaves a message, I try to reply to them, and say “thank you”. A nicer way of doing things than ignoring them, a bit rude.
Sloucher: Last question, a bit stupid, really. You are doing your shopping in Fargate and suddenly you see a dead chicken running around. What do you do?
James: Chase after it with a big machine. A chicken detecting machine!
Amy: Vomit, just vomit.
James: We were setting up the chicken on a skating board for a shot, then we heard screaming, we turned around and saw this woman getting out of her car, just screaming, pulled over immediately and getting sick in a bush. We were in hysterics!
Ian: We actually had the chicken. It was also the coldest weekend of all time ever. We started wearing t-shirts…
Amy: And ended up wearing quadruple jumpers!
James: We went to the poundshop to get something, we were freezing.
Ian: It was raining, it was windy, it was December. Freezing cold and 2 days chasing a chicken with a four track!
After a few more rounds, Ian excuses himself as he has to leave. A light rain starts to drizzle around and we stay for another drink. Amy and James tell me they are going to The Washington, with a stop at Bungalows and Bears to see Travelling Band. We make a pitstop at Spar, where Amy gets a bag of Haribo sours for 60p and we manage to see the latter half of Travelling Band and collapse in a table after the band finishes playing. No Tequila was involved, sadly.
Alcohol levels are quite high and the floor of Bungalows and Bears shifts from Revolving Restaurant to tilt-a-whirl. Much rambling ensues until Amy suggests I start recording. Damned if I know what was my question. I suck.
James: A lot of people who started bands because of the Arctic Monkeys explosion, they kinda expect to be handed things. I guess this kind of culture of the X-Factor maybe feeds it a little bit, without them realising. Most of the stuff [these bands] like is hard grafted. Stuff like promoting up yourself, getting venues, deal with everything, putting out gigs, well they are not doing it, [that’s] a negative side.
Sloucher: Yeah, guess so.
James: Whenever a scene gets a boom, a lot of bands will do the exact same thing. People wonder what should they play. Some of them are “should we play football or summink?”. They don’t really care about music, maybe they want to meet girls or whatever. They are like “throw a band together, get a haircut, get signed”. This shitty lack of understanding the culture leads to a middle period where they are in a terrible label, get dropped immediately, and miss the whole point of it: doing it yourself. Missing the grassroots part, it’s a fucking terrible life. It’s a two year cycle.
Amy: Oh, you are so waffling.
James: I’m waffling, but I have a point!
Amy: The point you are trying to make, rather long-windedly, it is that once Sheffield got into the spotlight again, hard working bands got washed over in favour of a few sound-alikes with the right haircut and the right outfit.
Sloucher (slurred): and the right shoes.
James: I’ve been asked if I’m bitter about it, and no. We’d be here either fucking way, doing exactly what we like. It makes no difference to me. It’s bad for bands coming up now because they have to compete with so much shit.
Amy: All you gotta do is wear a nice outfit, it’s not the tunes.
James: All this crap bands trying to imitate without an ounce of the wit of the Arctic Monkeys, and it’s just lame. Anything left-field gets sidelined. I’m perfectly happy to get by and anyone I care about in Sheffield tha’ts making music is getting sidelined. Whenever someone asks me about the Sheffield boom, I just say it doesn’t make any difference to us, it comes and goes. It always does.
One of the lads picking up the glasses comes by and tells us the place is closing, so we’d better finish up our drinks. I half contemplate the mostly empty pint of pear cider and wonder about a poster on the wall. Eh.
James: My favourite show we played was in Oslo, we played an hour and a half, every song we knew and people wanted more. It was the best time of my life.
Amy: Was that Café Mono?
Amy: It was awesome.
James: That would never have happened if it weren’t for Sheffield being in the spotlight again. I’m not worried about those other bands, whatever they are called. Some of them are back to having jobs and everything else, we still are making music, we care about making music above everything else.
Amy: You are not bitter. (!)
James: I don’t mean any ill will against anyone, if they are ok now that’s fine.
Sloucher: I don’t think you are bitter, not any of you guys. I mean, you’ve been to the breach, you’ve got the scar tissue to show for it. You’re the more veteran ones in the band, you know the nature of the game.
James: Easy. We’ll make the music we want to do.
Sloucher: You just said it. They went to get jobs, you still want to do music. You still have a passion and it comes through the music, you can feel that rage in the music, maybe a bit subdued, but it’s there. I mean, those four years between the albums…
James: Two and half years recording, yes.
Sloucher: That’s a life time in music. Specially how genres change.
We are then asked to leave Bungalows and Bears. We walk (they walk, I stumble) to the Washington, where James will be DJing the next night. Once inside, more drinks are ordered and my chavtastic choice of drink is joked about (direct quote from Amy: “He won’t remember tomorrow”).
While we continue rambling about stuff, quite a few regulars drop by and talk to Amy and James. The atmosphere at The Washington is much warmer than I remember and after nodding off a few times (lightweight, I know), I decide to crawl back home before I wake up in a tub full of ice with both kidneys removed.
Both Amy and James stay and wish me a safe return. They might be long in the tooth and been around the scene to know the ups and downs of the game, but they still are up to do the good fight. Sounds like a plan.
Words and last photograph: —Sam
All other photographs: Smokers Die Younger.
You can get a free song by Smokers Die Younger right here.
About the author: Next time he decides to hang out with Smokers Die Younger, he’ll have in his stomach something more substantial than a hummus sarnie and a handful of mange-tout.