Following the release of the first of 3 EP’s being released this year, Rob from North-east boys Little Comets talked to Impact Music about the newly found musical freedom on The Gentle EP. Politically loaded and passionately defiant, the EP contains four tracks of open book and typically articulate stories of misogyny, the tiresome music industry and a coalition government.
‘The Blur, the Line, and the Thickest of Onions’ fights back against radio stations’ choice not to air ‘Violence Out Tonight’ from their last record Life is Elsewhere as well as a well known pop star with a similar name:
“The feedback from a lot of radio stations was that they couldn’t play it because of the lyrical content, it’s a song that depicts a rape but the language isn’t graphic it’s just what the song is about. I was a bit puzzled by that because I think if you listen to a lot of the lyrical content of songs that do make mainstream radio, you could argue that there’s a lot of objectification of women going on and some of these songs you can argue that they not support, but create situations in people’s heads that maybe sexual violence against women is not necessarily a truly awful thing. So it made us think about where we are with lyrics in songs, and almost all songs on the radio don’t say anything, but what they do say isn’t always a positive message being sent out to people. That’s what the song is about, the death of the lyric in modern music and then I heard this ‘Blurred Lines’ song and it spiralled into thinking about how society treats women in general and so many examples of blatant sexism and also latent sexism. You go from what’s going on with how Page 3 still exists today but then also the under representation of women in our Parliament, in other Parliaments around the world, the amount of women around the world affected by domestic violence in some part of their lives, the lack of women in business. It’s one of those songs where my start point was different to my end point and I almost lost the plot by the end of finishing the song. I just felt thoroughly depressed with the state of things.”
I heard this ‘Blurred Lines’ song and it spiralled into thinking about how society treats women in general and so many examples of blatant sexism and also latent sexism.
In a similar vein, ‘Coalition of One’ is a pretty down the line personal opinion on the downfall of our current political system. Rob tells me how such strong opinions influenced this track:
“With that song, it’s more the older you get the more you realise that the way our Parliament is drives us mad. It’s full of people with quite specific backgrounds who don’t necessarily have any geographical connection with the community that they represent and the dominance of institutions like Oxford and Cambridge and particular schools. In our democracy, the way parliament is set up is a very confrontational arena that’s based on pretty outdated traditions whereas most modern Parliaments around the world are more circular where they are more based upon the spirit of people getting along as opposed to people being diametrically opposed. The way MPs behave in Parliament: compare the way they are sat silently and respectfully for Angela Merkel when she spoke on how to speak in PMQs. They can listen to someone’s point of view when they want and respond in a cogent way.
That frustration of realising that we don’t actually live in that much of a democratical system: the amount of constituencies country-wide that are either entirely blue or entirely red, the elections are completely focussing on a tiny slice of society because the way that our constituencies are will actually define the power base for the country.
it’s no wonder people switch off so much from politics and communities when actually it should be things that are wrong with the system that fuel people to get involved and act to change
It’s lots of little things like that, the crap with lobbying, the idea of a career politician, it’s fairly depressing, it’s no wonder people switch off so much from politics and communities when actually it should be things that are wrong with the system that fuel people to get involved and act to change. But then I get frustrated as well because all I’m doing about it is writing a song, so it’s tough because how do I know that I’m not just subconsciously writing about issues that I think people will connect to just so I’d like to sell a few more copies of the song. You could level that accusation, even though I don’t think it’s true but I don’t necessarily have control over that!”
One of the most striking parts of The Gentle comes from ‘Early Retirement’ and the refrain “I’m worn down by it all”. Rob explains how the darker side of the music industry influenced this idea:
“We’ve worked in the music industry for 6 or 7 years now and we’ve met some really lovely people and people who we work closely with all have similar values to ourselves. We’re all really family people and got little ones so we have quite simple existences and don’t have a decadent lifestyle that a lot of bands actually do have. We met people who they way their lives have set out seem to be totally about the love and pursuit of money or a certain type of lifestyle that actually serves to the detriment of other people and sometimes when you feel like these people are working with your music, it makes you feel like it’s the last thing that you want to do and it becomes quite easy to lose the passion for something you love. You can feel like certain people that are involved in what you do go and do things that make you think “what are you doing?”. The song is about things that have happened in my life where I thought “what am I doing with my life?””.
Little Comets took the brave and brilliant decision to ditch a bigger label for the independent scene. This may have been seen as a backward step by some, but not to Rob and co.:
“I think we are definitely more comfortable working solely on our own because we don’t feel like we have to make anything for anybody who we feel may be compromising anything. We can do everything on our own terms and everything we do is ours. We love making music and we love the fact that it’s our job. We’ll always write songs regardless, but at the minute we have our own little business model that let’s us do it as more of a full time hobby. To not have anybody in the way of that we can make decisions that are all about how the music will work. I think it’s definitely a lot healthier and we feel that we are the people that actually end up managing every aspect of the music and it’s a lot easier to work for yourself than having somebody else involved whose motivation is the unit price or how much they are spending on marketing.
when it gets to the stage where what you do is managed to that degree that it’s written in a setlist what your banter with the crowd is gonna be, you’ve got to ask yourself “what is the point?”
Things that should be really secondary like we like making music and if people want to buy it that’s fantastic but I think a lot of the time it ends up being the other way around and some people think of it the other way round and that’s really depressing. They think “aye, that’s a commodity that I’m looking to make that amount of money on” and that becomes the focus: “how can this song get to the chorus quick enough” and “what’s the formula for writing a song that will get on the radio and make money?”. We did a gig in Newcastle and the night before, Rizzle Kicks had been playing and had left a copy of the setlist on the stage. In this setlist it had all of the tunes written in and had when to speak to the crowd in between, and when it gets to the stage where what you do is managed to that degree that it’s written in a setlist what your banter with the crowd is gonna be, you’ve got to ask yourself “what is the point?”. Where is the enjoyment in that? It ceases to become about the music.
It’s not the first example either. We did a festival last summer and whoever was on before had at the end of the setlist “take photograph of crowd”. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve done a cracking gig it’s nice to take a photograph of the crowd to remember that by but that’s just a bit far gone.”
Little Comets have had a busy 2014 already and are set to release another 2 EPs as well as a full length album. Rob tells me what to expect on the next record and whether the stripped back openness of The Gentle is an indicator for what’s to come:
“I suppose we are at the stage with our writing where it’s taken us two albums to use the first person, and it’s not a conscious move it’s just the way the songs are that we are writing now. When we sat down and listened back to them we found that they were all really an opinion on different things whereas in the past we used to use a story or danced around things more. I think when we started off all we wanted to do was be in a band, sign a record deal, have a manager and tick those off the list. We didn’t necessarily have a reason for why we actually wanted to do music, we just wanted to do all of those things and now we are in a situation where we don’t really have any of those things any more and I think we have realised over the last two albums that we started writing music when we were 12 because we just liked to sit down and making our own songs and it’s almost gone back to that now. In the past it might have just been us writing music for the sake of writing music but now we are putting our heads down and working hard. Because of that I think the record will be a bit freer in terms of lyrical context, we have a bit more confidence now in the reason for doing it in the first place. I don’t think I’m good at explaining my point of view when I’m speaking to somebody so it’s the only outlet I’ve got to restrain the passion that I have for certain things by putting it into three verses and a chorus.”
…it’s the only outlet I’ve got to restrain the passion that I have for certain things by putting it into three verses and a chorus.”
Little Comets are well known for their very articulate and somewhat obscure lyrics, Rob explains what and who influenced his writing style:
“I studied English at school and never did it any more than that and I’ve always been interested in reading a sentence that says something quite simple but in a way that I’ve never seen the words used before. I think authors that I’ve read from book recommendations I’ve had, a lot of which have been translated into English from other languages and the language is used in a slightly different way so I don’t know. I think that a lot of the early songs that we wrote were about pretty standard things so in order to set them apart I thought I needed to use language that’s a bit different or it will just be another song about a boring issue that’s been covered in songs hundreds of times before. I suppose I’ve just kept that going; using language that is maybe not as everyday.”
The band recently finished a big UK headline tour where for the first time in a while they played encores. Rob explains why they haven’t done encores in the past and how the tour was different than those in the past:
“We did 3 or 4 encores on the tour. That was another things that we’ve noticed over the years that encores have been written into setlists and I’ve realised lately that people become quite offended when you don’t play an encore and think it’s down to them! I was explaining that on stage and someone just shouted “well if it’s supposed to be spontaneous and you’ve enjoyed the gig why not do an encore?” I think at that point I thought it may have been a bit selfish to say because encores aren’t used in the right way by everybody we’re just not going to do them.
I’ve realised lately that people become quite offended when you don’t play an encore and think it’s down to them
We went offstage and we’d loved that gig, for whatever reason. We enjoy most gigs we do but for whatever reason that gig (Birmingham) just had that little something about it. It’s hard to describe what sets it apart but you just feel like you’ve had a really really good day so we thought it felt like the right thing to do so we employed that thinking for the rest of the tour: if it felt appropriate then we did it. We hadn’t played in a lot of those places for over a year and it was a really warm environment in the room and it’s funny to say but we actually felt like a proper band. I think often when we’re on tour we’d be looking ahead to something else but I think we were able to enjoy that tour a bit more and take the gigs for what they were at face value.”
Already having had a busy year it seems that it’s only going to get busier with tour plans later in the year and the festival season on the horizon:
“We’ve got a few of the little festivals booked, not many at the moment but I think we will be touring again in October. That’s the plan right now anyway but we’re just waiting on the booking agent to put a route together at the moment.”
Towards the end of our chat Rob had some kind words to say about some other bands. One of which was old touring buddies Catfish and the Bottlemen:
“We played with a band called Inner Oceans from Denver, they’re great. There’s a guy called Ajimal from Newcastle who makes some quite atmospheric songs, has a lovely voice and a really good story in his songs. There’s another band from the North-east called Grandfather Birds who we really like. A band called Catfish and the Bottlemen, we played with them and they have more energy than any band I’ve ever seen. We’ll have a laugh when we’re on tour but it’s never fuelled by substances or alcohol it’s just fuelled by zest for life and what we do. We thought that they were going to be total maniacs and would drink or whatever else all the time and they just weren’t.
We’ll have a laugh when we’re on tour but it’s never fuelled by substances or alcohol it’s just fuelled by zest for life and what we do
They were one of the most professional bands we’ve ever played with. They were so on it and had so much enthusiasm for the music and we did have a good laugh. We thought we’d end up watching them gradually ruin themselves over the course of the tour because you do see that with some bands: week two into the tour and they’ve completely lost the will to live whereas this lot were at such a high level the whole time. It was just good to be with such nice people, so fortunately or unfortunately I don’t have any rock and roll stories from them!”