Sales, it seems, though, aren’t that important to the band. “It’s not like Keane, a band selling millions of records and then selling a couple of thousand on the next,” Dave points out.Contrary to popular perception, largely based on their high-profile cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, the band have never sold that many records. “We’ve never been that big, so we can only go up really. It’s quite exciting.”
They have sold enough records, though, to get by once the middle man gets taken out of the equation, which is what makes it a strange but exciting time for them. “People don’t ride penny farthings any more, you know,” Barry says.”They drive cars. Big record labels are like the industrial revolution, while we’re living in the digital age. Major labels spend too much money on promotion, without actually doing any work.”
Work is something that the band are no strangers to. In most interviews with the band they’ll mention the phrase ‘no-nonsense’, which is more an way of behaving than an artistic statement. Most of their songs, no matter how short or direct, veer and swerve unexpectedly after all, shirking a pedestrian label like ‘no-nonsense’ which, in musical terms, is better left to 12-bar boredom merchants.Barry laughs, “yeh, it can be quite nonsensical! I suppose when we say that, it’s not musical. It’s more about not messing about. If you’re going to do a rehearsal, do a rehearsal. If you’re going to do a gig, do a gig. No flakiness. No half-arsed behaviour. If you’re going to do something, do it properly. What we mean by it is really no bullshit. We’re musicians, we’re not anything else.”
Hard working, and no-nonsense – the hallmarks of Northern English culture. How important, then, are their roots to their sound? To put it another way, could the Futureheads have come together anywhere other than Sunderland? “I don’t really know. I’m not sure how important it’s been to our sound,” says Dave sceptically. “Obviously our accents come across (famously, an American fan after a show asked the band if they were from Prague). I suppose it gave us an aggressiveness at the begining, with regards to being in a band in England, because it’s generally all about the south, about London. You go down to London, and people are like – and at this point the brothers break into a parody of reactions, with flattened characterless accents: ‘Oh, you’re a geordie! I love Geordies’
‘ Bless you’
‘You’ll learn to talk properly some day’
together chiming the last sum up phrase – ”Salt of the Earth’.”So you take the attitude that you’ve something to prove then. We would have had that same attitude, though, if we’d come from Middlesborough, or Carlisle.”
So, if sadly News and Tributes is effectively finished as a project for the band, what are they working on now? “We’ve recorded about 6 demos. We’re quickly taking our time. We work hard at it. We’re not rushing, but at the same time it’s coming along quickly. We’ve got about 10 songs written,” Barry says of the preparations for their next album. “I can’t see any slow songs being on it – out of what we’ve written so far,” says Dave, about the direction, which makes me wonder whether the band are, subconsciously reacting against their second album. “I’d say it’s very direct. Very guitar driven. That’s just, though, because we haven’t done any vocal arrangements yet,” Barry points out, “In some ways it’s a progression. There’s still that sense of space there, but it’s going to be a lot more manic. A lot faster, and pretty chaotic.” And back, as always to that obsession with structure:” We’re getting really good at writing middle eights [laughs] we can’t wait to write the middle eight of a song. We’ve got these methods we’ve been using, ways of arranging the bass and guitar parts which are just really good fun to play around with. We’re getting much better at writing middle eights.”
The Futureheads talent is unmistakeable. Their drive evident. And yet, the marketing structures that should be able to easily take that ‘product’ and make a mint of it have thus far failed miserably. One of the key interfaces between a band’s talent and the record label is the Producer, the person who moulds the raw sound into what is presumed will be sellable. The Futureheads have already had their share of woes in this regard. Andy Gill of Gang of Four fame initially produced their first album, before the band/label decided to re-record/remix much of it. Their second album was produced, without fuss, by Ben Hillier (production credits include Blur and Doves). What about their third? Given that they’ve seen through the Emporor’s New Clothes of much of the industry, is there a temptation to self-produce?
Evidently a bit. It seems I’ve stumbled upon a bone of contention between the brothers (and what would a rock interview between siblings be without some tension somewhere!) ” Iwould personally love to produce the record, but these three won’t…” Barry nods eagerly.”Well, we don’t know how to work anything,” his younger brother, the voice of reason, points out.
“Get an engineer in man! to twiddle the knobs,” Barry answers too quickly, before describing a not-to-be-named producer “he just smoked cigars and drank red wine all day!”
“I think we’ll probably still work with an engineer.I think it would be pretty mad if the four of us went into the studio just with an engineer. A producer can keep you on track. For example, if me and him are having a go at each other, it’s nice to have an outsider who can just say – shut up.”
Won over by this line of reasoning, Barry agrees “That is kind of the Producer’s role in this band. It’s not like in Hip-Hop, where the producer will do everything, and is a superstar in his own right. Our arrangements will be pretty much finished when we go into record, so the Producer doesn’t really have that much to do. We’ll probably just pick someone with a large collection of microphones. In some respects that’s what it’s all about for us, just get someone with some tasty gear that we don’t even know how to get, like some communist eastern bloc microphones – where the hell would you buy that!”
With that we round up the interview. The band head to eat, and I next see them as they take the Covo stage, a small sweaty club (“we played in Hamburg, last year, just off the Reeperbahn, and played in a tiny little shithole, but it was one of the most amazing gigs we’ve every played, because there was this total sense of electricity in the air, and that could never happen in a stadium, or even beyond four or five thousand people I imagine. The energy gets lost. You can’t produce enough energy to filll the room”). They grab the room by the scruff of the neck, and hurl it around without pause or pity for over an hour blasting out songs that demand attention.
So, what’s the lesson? Any idea that the Futureheads have been stalled by the record label shenanigans can be safely archived. The band are full of energy, and ideas, and are ready to apply all that’s been learned over the last couple of years to their next album. And that’s a success in anybody’s language”.