2Q Festival packs quite a punch, unifying the very best Derby venues into a day of awesome alternative music. Revellers will be treated to a wide range of essential acts and rising stars at the many stages taking part.
We spoke to drummer Harry Chalmers plus guitarists Ryan Murphy and James Madden from Hooton Tennis Club as they enjoyed the luxuries of a London hotel the evening before they appeared on Soccer AM and spoke to them about their upcoming appearance at 2Q. They answered our questions about their writing process, the inspirations behind their fantastically eccentric music and their experiences in the studio working with producers Bill Ryder-Jones and Edwyn Collins.
Hey guys. I hear you are about to appear on television!
James: Yeah playing on Soccer AM. Playing two songs tomorrow. Yeah, it’s great, just don’t the sound check today and been looking around the place. Its cool. We’re excited.
Is this the first-time you guys have done any big TV appearances?
James: Yeah. We were actually talking about what other things could you do? There is only like Jools Holland and the Sunday Brunch show. It seems like we’ve got one of three available options.
I’ve got to start with the obvious question; the name. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times before, but what was it about a court in Little Sutton that captured your imagination?
Ryan: We just went out to get fish and chips one night when we were recording drums in Harry’s bedroom and we just saw the sign and Callum (McFadden; Bassist) saw the O’s in the sign and he was like “I Like the O’s in the sign”. Really simple, really daft but we just saw it and thought that makes a cool band name.
Harry: We concentrated on getting song names first. Song titles. We weren’t looking for a band name and we thought “That’ll do”.
And how did you guys meet and start the band?
Harry: We all meet in high school apart from Callum and James who’ve known each other since they were three. And then when we were in high school we had a band when we were fifteen, sixteen. We did that for a few years.
And then the Hooton thing started just when we all had a few days off from Uni. We decided to record a few songs in those spare days.
So it was just as simple as that? You had other things going on in your life but you had five minutes spare just to have a laugh and somehow became an amazing band almost by accident!
Harry: Yeah, more or less!
I’m a lot less productive in my days off.
Harry: Yeah, we just sort of slid into being a band without trying.
That is going to make a lot of people jealous!
Harry: When we first got signed we had a lot of people saying; How’d you do it? How did you get in contact? You must have done loads of gigs and put lots of effort in. What tips have you got? And we just didn’t really have any. We don’t really know what we did.
You are signed to Heavenly Recordings. Basically, the most indie label on the planet. You say you just slipped in but what lead up to becoming part of their roster?
Ryan: Dave Monks from BBC Introducing Merseyside, he played us on the radio. Then Carl Hunter, he was the bassist from The Farm and a great guy, he passed us on the Jeff Barret (Label Owner). Then Jeff came to see us play and it was our third show or our second show even. Yeah, second show! Yeah, he came along and it was a Sound City thing. He came along, had a chat with us afterwards. Then he came to another show at The Social and then he spoke to us and said “I’d love to do some records with you”.
So, that’s where it went from there. Again, like Harry said before its hard to give anybody any advice because we don’t actually know why it all happened. It’s just luck! I suppose we’ve all been writing music and making music together for a while, but not with any aim.
Harry: Up until the age of sixteen we tried really hard and got nowhere. With this one we put no effort in and very quickly got signed. So really lucky!
What have been your experiences being on Heavenly?
Harry: Its really nice. They’re all lovely people in the office. We pop in from time to time to say hello. Go for a pint. Speak to everyone. They’re all really nice people and really into it. No-one rushing anyone, nobody is saying “Get this done. Get that done”.
Cause there’s like deadlines to meet when you’ve made something. So, y’know you’ve got an album or you’ve got a single ready then there’s time when certain things get released but there is never any pressure.
We spoke to Jeff the other day at the Heavenly thing in Hebden they were doing (HVN360 A Heavenly Weekend In Hebden Bridge) the other weekend. We spoke about a third album and about singles from there and what we’re gonna do and he was just like, basically “Take it easy, write the songs you write and enjoy it. Once its ready – come and let me know!”
So many labels put a massive amount of pressure on their acts. They are afraid to take a risk and so try and shape and mould their signings. Sounds like Heavenly give you the freedom to discover exactly what you want to do.
Ryan: Yeah, I think that Jeff is quite anti commerce in a way. He’s more about, this is going to sound really wanky, but he’s more about the art man. And he is, but I don’t know how to put it in a less pretentious sounding way. He’s all about taking your time with it and making it the best it can be.
You’re one of the main draws for 2Q Festival. Which venue will you be playing?
Harry: We’re not too sure. No idea! Our manager will know.
How did you guys find yourself getting involved the festival?
Harry: Carl our manager and Nick our booking agent seem to find things and then offer them to us to see if we we’re interested in doing it.
Have you played Derby before?
Harry: Don’t think we have. I don’t think we’ve ever been to Derby.
Its just struck me that 2Q takes place on April 1st – are you planning any pranks on any of the other acts?
Harry: We’re not really pranksters and I don’t think we know anyone well enough and they might not take it the right way.
Ryan: We could do something to Carl.
Harry: I dunno. We’ve not really got any pranks. We were reading the Beano the other day in a service station and there was loads of silly stuff like putting salt on your sister’s toothbrush, freezing water in a bowl and putting cereal on top of it so when you try to put your spoon in it doesn’t work. Stupid stuff, putting grease on the floor so people slip over.
Maybe we could grease the stage up after we’ve played so the other bands can slip about, sliding all over the place like an ice rink!
Ryan: What was that show with the gunk? You get gunged at the end…
Harry: Get your own back!
2Q is one of the first festivals of the year. Have you got any others lined up? What else are you planning to do in 2017?
Harry: We’ve got a few other festivals…
Ryan: We’ve got Port Eliot. We’re playing Port Eliot Festival.
Harry: Are we?! I didn’t know that!
Ryan: Got one in the Netherlands; Welcome To The Village.
Harry: Wales Goes Pop! in Cardiff and one in Luxembourg as well. (Kulturfabrik)
Ryan: They’re sort of coming in slowly now. It’s the time of the year when that sort of happens.
I wanna go on a little retreat and write. Do some sitting about, making food, playing guitar and do nothing. I wanna go on a recording holiday basically. Hooton Demo Club holiday.
Harry: Yeah, that would be nice.
Ryan: It would be really good.
Is that how you guys tend to write your songs? Rather than go into the studio and write them there, do you have them all finalised beforehand?
Harry: For this last album, before we went to the studio we booked this little cottage in North Wales. And we went up for a three-day trip, four days, something like that. We had the demos but we had to work them out properly and learn the parts. Figure out different guitar tones we wanted and stuff like that so we didn’t waste time in the studio and we could just start recording straight away.
But the first album, I suppose it was a bit different because we had already toured the songs so we knew them really well whereas this time we hadn’t played any of the songs before we were in the studio. So, it took a bit of time to learn them. Dig them out a bit.
There was only a year between the two albums and it seems like you’ve skipped the ‘Difficult second album’ pitfall with Big Box Of Chocolates. What was the recording experience like and was it harder to do having not had the experience of playing them live to an audience?
Ryan: Not really. Just a different way of doing it.
Harry: When you record you’re always going to think; ‘Oh we’re struggling. Is it going to be as good?’ I think you’re always going to think that.
Ryan: There’s always a general concern among all of us while we’re doing it while we’re going; ‘Oh that’s not right. Is this right? Is that loud enough? Is this the right tone? Is this the right lyrics?’ But that’s just because we want it to be the best it can be while we’re in the studio. But when we’re writing its just whatever innit. Just till we’re happy with it.
To me, the album sounds overtly confident so it surprises me that there was any worry when you were recording it. How did you know when you were happy with the takes?
Ryan: Its hard to explain.
Harry: There’s lots of times when you listen back and think ‘What’s it missing?’ and just come up with a really specific answer. Like ‘Oh obviously it needs a tambourine bit on that bridge’ or something. Then you’ll put it in and it’ll work.
I think on this album we realised that you can be really happy with something at the time that you’re making it. And then you listen back next month and you kind of hear all the mistakes and you’re listening out for all things that are wrong. But you’ve gotta remember that at one point you that that’s good enough, that’s it, that’s what we’re happy with. Looking back in hindsight you might change things…
Ryan: You’d change things and you fall out with yourself. But what are you gonna do? You make something, you’re not happy with it and then the next week you are happy with it again. It just depends.
Harry: Yeah. You have to remember that you were happy with it when you made it.
Ryan: You could be in a mood trying to make an angry angular song and then a couple of weeks later you’re fine. You’re splashing the cash on some donuts and you’re having a great time and you’re not into it and you look back and wonder why you wrote that. Then you start doing sweet pop stuff instead. It just depends how you’re feeling at the time.
You need to not be too precious about that thing and look to the next record. You’ll always be making a new thing. Otherwise you’d just sit on an album like ten years.
Harry: And then when it comes out you’d still hear the mistakes so it doesn’t matter.
Ryan: Move on. Don’t be perfectionists.
Harry: Crack on. Let’s do the next one!
Well I’m going to do the very opposite right now and ask you about your first album instead. You recorded debut album Highest Point In Cliff Town with Bill Ryder-Jones (Former lead guitarist of The Coral). Why did you pick him to be the producer?
Ryan: He was picked by Jeff, was he not?
Harry: Yes. He worked with The Wytches on their first album on Heavenly and also he works in Liverpool a lot. Jeff recommended him and set us up. We had to meet him to check we had the right vibe (Laughs) and yeah he’s great. He’s really nice and understood completely what we wanted to do.
The second album Big Box Of Chocolates saw you choose another musician, Edwyn Collins (of Edinburgh post punk band Orange Juice), for a producer. Is this a deliberate decision and is there something about working with people that have been both sides of the mixing desk that you like?
Ryan: Again, Jeff recommended him.
Harry: His studio was just being finished and it was the perfect time for when we wanted to record. I don’t know about the difference of working with musicians…
Ryan: Because we don’t know otherwise!
Harry: I’m guessing most producers are musicians at some level but not one that’s been in a successful band.
Ryan: I think also those two producers we have worked with have been quite loose as producers and very open to suggestion as well. Their style of producing is…
Harry: They want to allow us to have a say.
Ryan: There’s a lot of leeway with them. Bill will suggest something and then we’ll crack on with some stuff and do some stuff, see how it works. We might do it, we might not. There’s no severe guidance of ‘This needs to be this’ or ‘Take this chorus out’. It’s not like that.
Same with Edwyn as well, its just more encouragement and being really passionate about it. Spurring you on. Just little suggestions of things you would have learnt had you had more time. He’s got this collection of vintage guitars and he’s played them all, and he’s played them all through all the pedals and all different amps so he knows straight away – ‘Right. That bit you play there is going to be great but take this guitar…’ and it works! And then if you had a different suggestion or you wanted to add a bit in or the drum sound isn’t right so we wanted to change that to add something into it then he was happy to go with that as well.
Your songs seem to be centred around characters, particularly on the second album. Are these real-life people or just fictitious tales? Like Bootcut Jimmy for example, is he a real guy?
Ryan: It is and it isn’t. Bootcut Jimmy is sort of mixture. Me and James went to a party for someone’s thirtieth but we were unsure who it was and we were told it was Jimmy from The Kazimier when that was still open in Liverpool. There was this guy dancing and he was cutting up the dance floor and being a legend so we assumed that was Jimmy. Everyone was loving his dance moves and he was the centre of the party. And then later we found out that he was just some random guy but we’d already written it so we don’t fully know who Jimmy is. It’s half character, half invented thing.
Lazers Linda that’s pure invention when James and I tried to make up a guru to help you through your day. A woman you can ask, put your problems on to and ask ‘What should I do here?’. Katy-Anne for instance is a real person. Jasper is a real person. And the rest is just real-ish stories I suppose.
With so much focus on characters, it feels like you’re driven very much by literature.
Ryan: I think you’re right. We all read quite a bit, not a huge amount. Carl can’t read (Laughs).
Any specific authors that seeps into the music?
Harry: Murakami. Hermann Hesse. Miller. Not really an influence on the music but just interesting. We pass films around each other, or we pass books or music. We’re always sharing stuff and messaging each other saying; ‘You should check this out’ or ‘Read this author, they’re great’. It just bounces around and it does influence you, it does inspire you. But I dunno if it specifically goes into the music.
That shared mood is so important because, no pun intended, a band always work better when everyone is on the same page. Does one person take the lead in writing the songs or is it a collaborative effort?
Ryan: James and I tend to come up with the lyrics and a bit of the structure. In the early days when we were in Harry’s bedroom or James’ bedroom, some one’s space somewhere, we’d just sort of jam it with the bits that we had. And then we’d use that cottage in Wales that Harry mentioned before and we’ve used practise spaces in Birkenhead. Yeah so James and I would come up with some lyrics and then we all work together to see what works.
With all the touring, making demos in Wales, doing promo down in London and all the festivals it sounds like you’ve been incredible busy for a long time. Have you had much time to go home?
Harry: December we had nothing. It was great. We finished the tour on the 9th of December and suddenly it felt like we’d retired and didn’t see each other for about a month really.
Ryan: I went to Madrid. Harry went to Poland. James went to Cambridge. We all had little holidays.
Harry: And then suddenly everyone gets really bored around the same time and start calling each other.
What’s going on in the North West at the moment? Any up and coming acts we need to hear?
Harry: Zuzu! Yeah, Zu came on tour with us from Birkenhead. They were really good, really great. Very nice people.
Ryan: It’s like indie pop – guitar. She’s very scouse. She’s cool. You should check it out.
Harry: With like, nineties American riffs. Really good. Their second single came out recently.
Any plans to get back into the studio soon?
Harry: I think we’ll book our cottage in Wales again soon.
Ryan: I’d like to do a Supergrass and get a cottage in France. I think what we’re gonna do is just write more stuff. We’ve got a couple of demos knocking about of new songs, we’ve been practicing things as well. Just write more stuff and aim to another album. We try to set ourselves an album a year task. We’re really keen to do it.
Harry: The album only came out a few months ago basically but we’ve had it finished since May. Happy to get going with the next one.
What is the sound of the new material like then?
Harry: The demos are so kind of loose we’ve yet to work out what they’re going to be like as a finished thing. Just trying out different things with them.
Ryan: I’ve recently gotten really into golden age hip hop and Harry is on a folky country mission at the moment. So, I dunno what that’s gonna be like!
So you’re basically saying you are turning into Beck!?
Both: Oh yeah!
Ryan: They you go. So the next one’s gonna be Beck.