“It’s all based on this fuckin’ crap idea that everything turned amazing in ’76 when a bunch of cunts who couldn’t play started twatting around in New York. That means nothing to me. I don’t care”, Christian Madden of Anglo-American band The Earlies declares, in what could well be a musical manifesto. “I’m not worried about being overblown. I’m totally into things being overblown. I think it’s pathetic to constrain yourself by worrying about whether somebody’s going to come along and say [in an affected serious tone] ‘That’s overblown! You’ve gone too far! You’re playing too well, with too big a line up!’. I’d rather go and see a real spectacle when I go and see a gig. I don’t think you get a better experience because you go and see three guys with a guitar, bass and drum. I don’t think you get a hollow experience ’cause you go and see 10 people on stage. The music should be judged on its merits. Instead of worrying about whether you fit into whatever music journalism decides is acceptable.”
Just as well, I think to myself, as we chat in the back of a crowded tour bus. The band, consisting of four core members, grows to a touring group of 10.
“Just for the record, I quite like a lot of those cunts from New York,” throws in Giles Hatton with the dry wit that’s so characteristic of the North of England, instantly counterpointing Madden who’s steering dangerously close to the preeching pulpit. “I’ve got no problem with them,” continues Giles, “I think there were a lot of twats that came out of the punk era. The original idea got fucked about with, especially in England where it became a big fashion thing”.
The Earlies have, without a doubt, the strangest, most unorthodox set up that I’ve ever chanced upon. For example, I arrive presuming to interview the four main members of the band, the nucleus as it were, Christian, Giles, John Mark, and Brandon. John Mark is absent though. Not just from the vicinity of the tour bus, but from the tour itself. “He dun’t tour,” explains Giles, “he just doesn’t like it”. “And he can’t really play anything either, so it’s kind of redundant all ’round” interjects Christian, matter-of-factly and without sarcasm. “He does a lot of the studio stuff, and writes a lot of the lyrics as well. You don’t need to be a virtuoso to come up with a melody – and here he pauses just an instant, enough for comic effect – you just need to be good to play it!” Hearty laughs all round. Laughter in fact punctuates every minute or so of the interview. Their debut album These Were the Earlies was described by a gushing Q Magazine as “A work of baroque detail, crossing between Mercury Rev‘s psychedelic Americana and The Beta Band’s bucolic electronica”. Thankfully in the flesh The Earlies veer more towards good-natured, beer-drinking chat than the baroque.
Let’s go back to the start. How did The Earlies come about. Giles, who consistently tends to break the ice off each question, responding first, before the others break in, answers: “I’d known Christian for years. Me and Christian hung out in this bar, where Christian had a free bar tab because he was being managed by the guy who owned it, so we kind of bonded over this free bar tab. Then it became clear to me that Christian was an awesome musician, who knew loads of awesome musicians. Me and John Mark had just been fiddling around with electronic stuff, and we thought ‘fuckin ‘ell, we could make real music, instead of just muckin’ about!'” And so Christian, Giles, and American John Mark started experimenting in the studio on instrumental music. A studio project.
“Initially we were just going to be instrumental,” Giles goes on. “We had this other guy who we were working with, who was singing, and he just turned out to be a fucking fruitcake, so we thought ‘let’s just not bother putting a voice on’.” Then John Mark met Brandon. “John Mark got Brandon to put some vocals down, in Texas, and the results were dramatic. The first thing that I heard that he’d done, an instrumental piece that he put a vocal too, just made me think straight away ‘we’re on the right track here’. It totally changed the whole dynamic.”
Putting your finger on the dynamics of The Earlies is no easy task. While thus far we’ve spoken about prog-rock, crowds of musicians, and studio experimentation, the reality of their debut album is a different kettle of fish. It’s a warm, gentle, subtle album full of shades and textures. Perhaps most strangely of all, it doesn’t sound like a lot of it was created in Burnley. “I think the American feel is more than anything because there’s an American singer,” says Christian. “If you know nothing about us, it’s hard to listen to it and imagine a group of people with Lancashire accents getting together in the studio and making that. It sounds predominantly American ’cause of Brandon’s voice – which is cool, ’cause having an American voice singing would be a damn site better than… me for example, that’d sound shit [laughs]. There’s this sort of timeless classicism that you can’t get from English voices.”
It’s bucking the trend, though, to choose an American sounding singer when the hottest sounds in Britain today are those of bands singing in their own accents – Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, Futureheads, and, top of the provincialism pops, Arctic Monkeys. “It’s cool, if you can unashamedly do it,” Christian responds. “I think the Arctic Monkeys are a really good band,” joins in Giles. “I quite like them. They’re one of the few bands recently who… well… nobody justifies that amount of hype, and I’ m sure they’d agree themselves, but it was nice that when I finally got to hear them, they were actually fucking good. Cause in England there are so many bands who are hyped purely on the basis that they’ve got a lovely haircut or something, and you hear the record and it’s dogshit!”