How did I get here? I’m sitting on a trash bin in the backstage bathroom of Baby’s All Right. Across me, or rather, encircling me, are the three young gentlemen who make up Happyness, arguably one of England’s best new bands. They’ve just released their debut LP Weird Little Birthday, played South by Southwest, and are shaking the last leg of their first American tour. What better way to commemorate it than with a powwow in the john?
To my right, vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Benji Compston is perched on the toilet. Bassist/vocalist Jonny Allan is cross-legged on the floor in front of me, and drummer Ash Cooper is leaning on the sink. It feels more like I’m cutting gym to smoke cigs with my middle school buddies than it does a professional interview, but I’m instantly at ease. It’s nice meeting other people who feel as at home on a bathroom floor as I do.
I could never have guessed that this was where we’d chat. The evening started as many do, neurotically watching the clock until the exact minute the interview was actually scheduled. Of course, this is never when they occur. Sat at the bar, I witnessed a man fully costumed as a taco run past me into the green room. No explanations, just some very fast food. I finally saw Benji and abruptly sprung at him from my stool, explaining the meet-up we had scheduled.
“Oh, ok, cool-do you mind if I go for a cigarette first? Do you want to come? Do you want one?”
Outside I met Jonny, Ash, and their tour manager, Mark. They told me of the deli sandwiches they’d eaten, and that they were due to order more. I urged them to order a chopped cheese. They didn’t. We entertained the idea of doing the interview in their van, but the boys warned me it was far too messy and musty. (If they only knew…)
To the tiny lavatory then.
Jonny Allan: We could do it
[the interview] in the mirror!
Madison Bloom for Audiofemme: Yeah, take a long look at yourself while you answer these very basic questions. No one’s sitting on the toilet, which is a little disappointing
JA: Sit on the toilet, Benji.
Benji Compston: What?
JA: Sit on the toilet.
(Compston slowly settles sideways on the lidless throne.)
JA: That was so dainty! Look at you!
MB: I like what you did there. You’re doing sidesaddle on the toilet.
BC: This is how I always sit. Is this not how you’re meant to?
JA: No, that’s exactly how you’re meant to.
MB: So, this is you’re first U.S. tour…how’s it been?! Do you have any crazy stories of anything that happened?
BC: We got in a hot tub when it was raining and people outside the hotel window stared at us and laughed at us because traditionally people don’t go in hot tubs in quite cold weather in Dallas in March.
Ash Cooper: There’s more hot tubs in America so we were just excited to get in.
BC: Yeah just the idea of having a hotel with a hot tub was like, “Oh my god, we’ve arrived.”
MB: Not a lot of hot tubs in England?
AC: Less pools.
JA: I don’t know, it’s kind of an item of luxury I guess, and I had not seen a hot tub in a while, so, being in a hotel with a hot tub was the BEST thing ever, and so we all went out there, smoked cigarettes and were pale, and people looked at us, it was kinda fun.
MB: So the craziest thing you guys did was get in a hot tub?
JA: Oh yeah then we met a Neo-Nazi Texan man who forced us to hold his loaded gun at ourselves, but….
MB: That’s somehow not surprising to me, like yeah, that’s America. And Texas. What’s been the funnest city to play? Or just to be in? You seemed to have a lot of fun in Portland; you went to Voodoo Doughnut!
JA: Oh they came to us. They delivered a box.
BC: Cleveland. We had a very fun time in Cleveland.
MB: What happened in Cleveland?
BC: (expectant pause) We…played a fun show….
JA: Hung out at America’s Best Value Inn.
MB: Wow, you guys are CRAZY! Hot tubs and…
JA: We fuckin’, we were like running around the hotel and someone set off an alarm…
AC: Yeah we were playing Sardines.
JA: Do you know the game Sardines?
JA: Sardines is basically hide and seek but instead of everyone hiding, one person hides and you go and you try and find them, and if you find them you just hide with them…
AC: Until there’s one guy left wandering around…
JA: …going like: “Has everyone else just left me?”
BC: We hid in a water closet thing.
JA: We hid in a laundry closet thing. A water closet’s a toilet.
BC: Oh is it? Sorry, I thought that was a waste closet.
MB: That’s also fitting.
BC: We stayed in a Motel 6 in Salt Lake City, and, I watched Ash-I thought Ash was getting violently assaulted and I watched out the hotel window and was just kinda like: “Ah, ok, let’s just see what happens next and then deal with it afterwards.”
AC: Story of my life really. Leave Ash outside and see what happens.
BC: Well I thought out of all of us you’d probably deal with it best. I thought you’d probably come back from it kind of.
AC: This isn’t the first time this has happened to me.
BC: Because if I was assaulted in a Motel in Salt Lake City I think I’d just, you know, I think I’d just give up.
MB: What was actually happening? You weren’t being assaulted…
JA: The Mormons were taking over.
MB: You guys played in Seattle, I was actually in Seattle when you guys played but I couldn’t make it.
JA: Ooh, that was a fun show.
AC: Actually I think Seattle was my favorite city.
MB: Really?! I’m from Washington so, a bit of pride there. I was emailing with Cheryl Waters from KEXP and she wanted me to tell you guys hi because she had a really good time.
JA: Yeah, we really liked Cheryl! She was really cool.
AC: We got a lovely photo with her.
BC: Yeah she’s awesome, that session was really fun.
MB: Well I’m glad you guys liked Seattle, just had to kind of rep it and tell you guys hi for Cheryl. You guys did SXSW too, how was that
BC: It was all quite intense.
JA: It was kind of hectic.
All: We didn’t have much time to do anything.
AC: It’s so hectic that you don’t see Austin. It wasn’t until the day after, when we did like a hangover show, that we actually realized that there was a city behind South By.
MB: Yeah I’ve heard a lot of mixed things from musicians, but it’s like a thing that’s really honorable to do.
JA: Yeah it’s nice to be asked to do it.
AC: It’s nice to have the wristband.
MB: Yeah? You gonna frame it? You’ve kept them?
BC: The CMJ one we could wear as like a lanyard, but the South By one was constantly on our wrists and we started to kind of look like fourteen year old festival goers because we just had wrist bands going all up our arms.
JA: Do you know what it does to a person having a shower with the same thing on your wrist every morning? It’s very stressful.
MB: It’s gets very smelly too.
JA: Well, I made a point of shifting…
MB: So it didn’t get the gross watch smell.
JA: Yeah, I didn’t have the kind of, arm decay, because, ‘aint nobody got time for that.
MB: I read an interview that said that while you guys were writing and recording your first EP and album you were working during the day. What were your day jobs?
BC: Um, I worked at a restaurant in South London, which I quite promptly got fired from.
JA: You painted canvases white!
BC: Oh, I was an artist’s assistant in London, and then after that I worked in a restaurant as a waiter and I was probably the worst waiter they’ve ever had.
JA: He got fired because he didn’t know what was in the risotto bowls.
BC: I’d just make stuff up, people would be like, “oh, what’s this?” and I’d kind of go (glances sideways, mumbling) “oh, ch-ch-ri-chorizo, with a bit of…rice and cheese and cream and paprika…..” and then I kind of would say things like: “oh, they put paprika in everything here.” Which they did.
JA: Make that the tagline!
BC: There were some complaints about me…and I’d forget things and a woman once asked for cheese on the side because she was lactose intolerant-
AC: Why would she still get cheese on the side?
BC: And then I grated loads of Parmesan on top of it-
JA: At the table!
BC: Yeah, I put it down and was like (makes grating motion) and she was like: “What the fuck are you doing?” and I was like: “Parmesan! On your risotto!”
JA: I just worked at a pub. I basically served these guys. I would just kind of like hang out there all day and nobody else would come in and they’d come in and be like: “Can I have one of the soups?” and I’d be like: “Yeah.” I got to wear a nice shirt though.
JA: It was short-sleeved, and it was kind of maroon-y
AC: I visited you and you looked very fetching in that shirt.
JA: I did. Yeah, I did, I looked nice. I looked like a nice boy.
MB: Ash, what about you?
AC: Um, I draw baths for children.
MB: I don’t believe you.
JA: No, he does, it’s true.
MB: I’m sorry, you what?
AC: I draw baths for children.
BC: Please explain a little bit.
MB: Yeah, can you, um, that sounds, just, creepy.
AC: I’m a glorified manny.
JA: What’s worse is there like, 14.
AC: These kids can’t fend for themselves.
MB: But that’s all you did? You didn’t like, feed them, or take them to the park? You just bathed-well, you didn’t bathe them…
AC: No, I took them to the park
BC: You took them to the fish restaurant and made a fuss.
AC: I took them to the fish restaurant, well, that wasn’t me that made the fuss – I took them on a run in the park, I took them to the drum shop because we had a free day, I took them to the, eh, oh, what’s that bike race called that goes through Paris?
All: The Tour de France?
AC: I took them to the Tour de France because it came through London and we had a day out, it was great. But yeah, glorified manny. Put glorified manny.
MB: Ok, so, glorified manny, bartender, and shitty waiter. No offense.
BC: Oh, no, it’s fine.
MB: So I’ve read that there’s kind of a movie concept thread running through the new album, but what was the inspiration for the lyrical scalping of Win Butler?
BC: I was walking with Jonny like years ago and I just kind of said the lyric to Jonny and was like…that’s a thing.
JA: We used to talk about Win Butler’s hair. We used to be very, uh, we used to dress kind of, wonderfully in a just appalling way.
MB: Like in suits?
JA: No, we were part of the whole London teenage thing where everyone would wear very tight jeans and really fluorescent shoes.
MB: I don’t know that movement.
JA: Oh, it was a real thing. It was the underage scene in London and we used to really like Win Butler’s hair.
MB: So you don’t actually dislike Win Butler, in fact, you loved him.
JA: Yeah, we loved him.
BC: I just thought one day it would be quite funny, because Win Butler at that point had a hair cut, and it was the haircut and it was part of his thing, and I thought it would be quite funny to cut off part of his head, and wear it.
MB: So in interviews you guys are often pretty self-deprecating of your own music-I’m guessing that’s mostly an act? Or do guys actually kind of feel like: “How the fuck did we get to this place? How are we successful?”
JA: Are we successful? That’s news to us!
AC: We’re doing an interview in a toilet.
BC: So you’re asking, are we actually surprised? Yeah, I think we probably are.
MB: Ok, because I figured, oh, they’re self-deprecating, they’re just British, whatever.
AC: Yeah, it’s partially the British thing I guess…
BC: But lastly, when you leave, we’ll all stand in this mirror and go: “We’re very famous. We’re very famous.”
AC: There’s a story in there somewhere.
MB: So, I’m not going to ask you guys about the “Y” in the spelling of your name because I know you guys get asked that all the time-
JA: The Beatles is the answer to that question.
MB: No! That’s not the question! It’s an announcement actually, because I know you guys mentioned that there’s a band in Finland (Happiness), the hardcore band that is spelled normally, but-
AC: Are you going to start the lawsuit? Is that what you’re announcing?
MB: I will, but I need to start two lawsuits because there’s another band in Rhode Island that’s called Happiness, normal spelling, and it’s three guys from Deer Tick…
JA: Fuck. Them. When did they start that?
MB: I don’t know, but they’re just in Rhode Island, so if you guys wanna just take a car like, a bit north, you can kill them while you’re here.
AC: But wait, now we can start the lawsuit!
JA: It would be very hypocritical of us to start the lawsuit.
BC: That’s very interesting you told us that.
MB: I just felt like I needed to tell you; I didn’t want to start any drama but-
JA: The drama is RIFE.
BC: I think we may have started before them.
JA: I really hope. Cuz like, if you just google the word ‘Happyness’ band
MB: Well, which spelling?
JA: Oh, that’s a good point… Well, they must have found the Finnish heavy metal band…so they’re fucking assholes.
BC: I’m going to pretend this conversation never happened.
MB: I’m still going to put it in…
BC: You’re like God.
MB: Are you from London proper, or are you just based there?
All: No, we’re from London.
MB: Well, you never know, you could be from…
JA: My Mum and Dad live in Devon!
MB: I hear it’s very nice.
JA: It is nice!
MB: Do you find that that’s a big part of your identity? Like I feel like there are bands that really identify as an American band or “We are a British band. That is intrinsic to our identity.” Or do you just happen to be from there.
JA: We just kind of happen to be from there. The amount of people who when we started were like: “Oh! The scene in London is so great right now!” We were kinda like “uhhhhhhhhh…..”
BC: There were a few people who were really trying to make the South London thing happen, and were like “South London band Happyness, from South London!” It was like…ok.
MB: I’ll just put “general English band.”
JA: (chuckles) Yeah, “Non-descript English…”
BC: “Non-descript, trans-Atlantic band.”
MB: I had a question about your song-I listen to BBC6 like, everyday when I’m at work, and Marc Riley’s my favorite, but I never hear him play “Marc Riley in a Karesansui” and I’m always really pissed off! Like, “why won’t you play this?!”
BC: He never has! Can we speak to him about this because-
MB: I want it to be his new intro song!!!
BC: I think he might have not found it very funny….
MB: But he takes the piss out of himself all the time!
BC: The session we did with him was actually really fun, and we actually did really well.
MB: He just seems like such a sweet dude…
BC: No he was really sweet, he bought us some beers and chocolate, which was really nice.
JA: I think it was too long for the radio, but they asked us to make a jingle, and we did it, and that’s why we did it, and then they never put it on the show, so we were just like…
MB: Wait, so you actually made it for them?!
JA: Yeah! And then they never put it on the show.
MB: I’m gonna have a word; I mean, not like we know each other, but maybe….
JA: Email him! Say: “Marc, big fan. Where’s that song?”
MB: Ok. I’ll do it. I’m glad you guys were worried about that, because I was. If you guys had some kind of freak accident and could not play music, what would be your fallback plan, aside from waiting tables?
BC: I’d probably quite like to run a small delicatessen somewhere?
AC: City farm.
JA: Like a petting zoo.
MB: We need those.
BC: Actually, my deli could be part of the city farm.
MB: You could slaughter the animals and use them as the deli meat!
JA: That’s the only reason we’d be growing them in the first place.
BC: Ooh yeah, and we could name it, we could say (puts out hand as if to serve a sandwich) “this is Persephone the pig…”
JA: Angelo, the camel.
BC: Peter, the boa constrictor.
JA: Hey, I’ve got a penny from the floor of the toilet!
MB: Oh! That’s good luck.
JA: Yeah that’s good, urine-y luck.
MB: Do find there’s a big difference between the audiences you play to at home and here?
JA: People make more fun of our accents, which we like, in a kind of masochistic way.
MB: You’ve been on tour for weeks and weeks now; what have you guys been eating mostly?
JA: Bad stuff. Sonic.
BC: Can you tell???
MB: No, no, I just like asking this question because you’re on tour and basically on wheels for a month.
BC: Here’s (NYC) been the best food we’ve had on tour.
BC: Yeah, the food here’s been unbelievably good. Really good.
JA: I had pork belly eggs benedict.
BC: We’d mainly been eating, like, really processed fast food.
JA: We went to a Sheets.
MB: A what?
JA: A Sheets. It’s like a gas station where you order on the-Mark knows about Sheets, he showed us.
MB: Sheets? I don’t know about Sheets.
Mark Miller (Tour Manager): It’s the coolest truck stop. They have a bunch of different food and you order on a screen and then they hand it to you, rather than like, going into a truck stop and eating like, a hot dog on a roller. You can get wraps.
JA: I have a confession to make about Sheets, now remembering: very impersonal.
MB: So that’s a full statement?
JA: Yeah, that’s right.
MB: What are you guys most excited to do while you’re in New York?!
BC: I’ve got a friend, several friends, who live in Central Park Zoo, and, we’re going to go see them.
MB: They live in the zoo?
BC: They live there. They’re sea lions.
JA: We’re going to go see them; we didn’t see them last time.
BC: We didn’t see them last time, we didn’t have time, but we know them quite well.
MB: I’ve actually never been there, I’ve lived here seven years and I’ve never been there.
BC: You should come!
JA: Do you want to come? Monday.
BC: Peter, Andrew, Angela and Nigel. My friends from Central Park Zoo.
JA: They smell worse than our van.
For all their jest and cheeky remarks, these three get very serious on stage. Of course there’s a level of welcome banter and rambunctiousness, but their focus is admirable. The brief set at Baby’s was fun and full of messing around. Allan and Compston smooched each other’s cheeks en route to switch instruments, and finished off their final song with a good tumble on the ground, tangled with their guitar cables and dodging the inevitably sloshed beer.
I can’t say I’ve ever met a pack of musicians as kind or as clever as this lot-they’re as laid back as they are hilarious. As long as you don’t ask them why they spell their name with a “Y,” you should miss the snarl. Seriously. It’s like asking a crust punk if he knows he’s got holes in his jeans.
I hope to hear news of many more albums and American tours to come. And I hope that one day I can talk Happyness into ordering a chopped cheese.