The music scene in Seattle and the surrounding Pacific Northwest area birthed Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Heart, Steve Miller Band, Ernestine Anderson, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Death Cab for Cutie, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, and so many more artists that have shaped popular music history. Still, if you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, ’90s-era grunge remains Seattle’s best-known musical export, and to be fair, Seattleites aren’t finished with the flannel-covered nostalgia. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, and Temple of the Dog seemed to emerge organically out of Seattle’s do-it-yourself culture of basement house shows and dim, hole-in-the-wall dives, and that’s the ethos that still drives the music scene here. No need for expensive instruments, crew cuts, or silk shirts; just come (as you are) and play something honest.
Still, once grunge finally made the rest of the world understand how cool this rainy northwest corner could be, it brought one central tension to our doorstep that—with the added pressure of corporate giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks settling here—is just now starting to boil over. How do you keep the city’s authentic alternative, do-it-yourself heart alive when Seattle is being copied and commodified?
Kurt Cobain struggled with being mainstream, and Seattle is the same way. We thrive right on the line between alternative and commercial; the place where you can still make a living by creating weird, thought-provoking music without being a “sell-out.” But if the culture pushes you too far to either side, there’s a real crisis of identity. That’s where Seattle is today.
As Amazon and other tech companies have moved in and expanded, the cost of living has exploded. A cost of living index put out by the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness recorded that as of the third quarter of 2017, it costs 52.8 percent more to live in Seattle than the average of other 267 cities surveyed. And it’s all just happened in the last couple of years – Seattle didn’t even make the top ten most expensive cities until 2016; now it rests at number six.
The cost of living is so high that most people – including musicians – are being forced out of the city proper (as far south as Olympia, as far north as Everett) and homelessness is at an all-time high. My takeaway? A lot of people lack the income it takes to support local art, let alone be artists themselves. And it seems, by the looks of all the struggling artists and venues, that new transplants with disposable income aren’t as interested in engaging in the local music scene, despite the trending status of ’90s culture and the Seattle “vibe.” This is completely counter to the Seattle of old, in which people moved here to be closer to the culture they identified with.
Hence, feminist punk bands are buried by Britney Spears “throwback” nights, where a bro-y software engineer dressed like the Brawny guy can pump his fists and grind on a twenty-two-year-old marketing assistant from San Bernadino. What’s more, arts publications that once kept the scene somewhat healthy, like CityArts, are folding, and many of the long-treasured venues that offered steady gigs and chances to see live music are either being bulldozed for new high-rises (like The Showbox) or changing their brand to accommodate more of what sells (veteran nightclub Neumos’ newer downstairs venue, Barboza, now now books DJ nights like “Guilty Pleasures Dance Party.”)
My best friend Julia is a park ranger near Bozeman, Montana, and she tells me that the National Park Service has a division called “Interpretation and Education,” the point of which is to educate people about the land, forests, and waters they’re visiting “so that they will understand why it’s valuable and worth preserving.” We could use a program like that for the arts scene in Seattle, if we’d like to maintain our culture. It’s not hopeless – some organizations continue to do their best to lifting u local artists, namely KEXP, The Stranger, and The Musician’s Association of Seattle. They remind us that the value of a place is intrinsically connected to the culture of its inhabitants, despite how many multi-million dollar corporations attempt to co-opt it.
The value of Seattle, for me, lies in fleeting moments – like watching three powerful women hip-hop artists, Taylor Elizza Beth, Guayaba, and DoNormaal, slay an enraptured crowd at Timbre Room; like discovering some truly transformative sets of improvisational music at the weekly Racer Sessions and through the local label Table & Chairs; like seeing Tacocat with dozens of like-minded, light-dappled souls mouthing along to their song “I Love Seattle.”
We do love Seattle, and taking pride in our music scene is vital to that love. So, with a mixture of think pieces, profiles, and show reviews that shine some light on different facets of Seattle’s music scene, I hope “Playing Seattle” can begin to knit old Seattle and new Seattle back together.
I’m not two weeks into 2018 and I still haven’t gone to the gym, started paying my student loans, or repaired the ripped and button-less pile of clothing in my bedroom. Fortunately, I’m not alone. How long do most people last when attempting their new routines – the ones drafted under that misleading label New Year’s Resolutions? Is your credit already improving? Do you see abs forming on your once shapeless midriff? If the answer is “yes” to either of those questions, please do not tell me.
The expectation to do better the moment the clock strikes 12:00 can be absurd and daunting, especially for someone like me who really falls for it and formulates not one resolution, but a litany of them. Sometimes they are as vague as, “Get your life together!!!” Other times they are simple yet wildly inefficient, like the year I was going to “wear heels more.”
Resolutions that necessitate reversing our lifestyles and personalities (like that one about heels) seem to be the goals that don’t stick, so this year I’m sticking to what I know instead. I figure that if the bulk of my New Year’s resolutions revolve around music, I might actually tick them off my list. So here they are, my six reasonable, totally doable, music-related goals for 2018.
1) Go to more shows (and keep a record of each one).
I say this every year: That I will a) go to more shows, and b) designate a notebook simply for the purpose of recording each one I attend. Going to more shows is the easy part; if I really put my mind to it, I bet I could average between one and three a month. The hard part is remembering to write them down. I don’t need a florid play-by-play of each song and coat check line, just the band names, date, and venue.
I’m aware of that endless archive called the Internet, but I have an affinity for lists on good old-fashioned paper. I have plenty of notebooks allocated to specific subjects, and it doesn’t sound difficult to do the same for concert-going, but I always manage to forget. By the time the year is out, I can’t possibly remember all of the shows I’ve been to, let alone dates and venues, without having to spend a few hours sifting through the web. It’d be nice to just flip to a page marked: “Shows, 2018” and relive the memories via bullet points.
2) Read that enormous book about John Peel that’s been on my bookshelf for ages.
About two years ago, when I was still working as a panty designer and listening to the gospel of BBC6 Music everyday, DJ Jon Hillcock was singing the praises of David Cavanagh’s book, Good Night and Good Riddance. The 605 page tome about John Peel has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since, as I purchased it immediately after Hillcock’s endorsement. The problem with the book is not its subject matter – I am a huge admirer of Peel, the late Radio 1 DJ. The problem lies in those 605 pages, and the fact that they make the book so large that it fails my commuter reading test, the criteria being: can I comfortably hold the book with one hand while the other grabs the subway pole? The answer for this paperback is: No. Alas, I will have to grin and bear the hand cramps sooner or later… because I really do want to read it.
3) Listen to more radio.
Some of my favorite music has been funneled into my ears by the loving DJs at stations like KEXP, BBC6 Music, and Brooklyn’s Lot Radio. Lately however, my radio ration has decreased in size. Where once I listened daily, now I do so monthly. This is silly. What’s sillier is that I’ve never even visited the Lot Radio, despite their throwing constant shindigs right off of my train line. However, considering the station’s limited indoor space, perhaps I will wait until spring 2018 to pop by…
4) Re-learn the small amount of piano I learned over a year ago.
Between the summers of 2015 and 2016 I took piano lessons once a week in Greenpoint’s San Damiano Mission (across the street from the Lot Radio). I was a determined student initially, but after a few months I let my practice regimen slip. A year later the lessons ended due to my dwindling cash flow, and though I would love to start them up again, they’re not quite within my budget yet. Even if I could afford them, I’d still want to refresh my “abilities” before facing my teacher again. I suspect this will be the most difficult item to achieve on this list, as it takes the most discipline, patience, and humiliation.
5) Go record shopping more.
Like piano lessons, this goal is contingent upon financial stability. However unlike piano lessons: I can write it off! There used to be a wonderful record shop called Sideman Records (sister shop to Captured Tracks in Greenpoint) just a 15-minute walk from my house. Sadly, it closed, and I’ve found my record store purchases diminishing ever since. One goal for 2018 is to go to record shops I’ve never been to, like Human Head in Bushwick and House of Oldies in the West Village. These spots may not be walking distance from my apartment, but that’s no excuse to not support them.
6) For the love of God: Order crates for my records.
This resolution addresses one of my most shameful secrets as a music journalist: that my record collection follows no rhyme or reason or system of organization. My albums are stacked against a wide shelf in my bedroom, seemingly arranged in a way that displays “What I’ve been listening to the most lately” in the front and buries “What I often completely forget I own” in the back. This anti-system nurtures a habit in which I listen to the same thing (Smog) over and over and over again, and leave other records (James Chance and the Contortions, Phil Collins) completely untouched. My hope is that crates would help me categorize my vinyl and give it a dignified home that would ward off warping. I currently have my LPs propped up with the dumb bells I’m supposed to be using to “get in shape,” which are protecting my vinyl just as much as they are sculpting my deltoids.
In the 1973 film American Graffiti, restless high school students zip around in classic cars, aimlessly careening through the night for the sake of motion alone. Characters wind up in different scenarios; burglaries, burger joints, brawls…kid stuff. But the one consistent element between every car ride is the radio; specifically the station tuned to the legendary, real-life DJ Wolfman Jack. Despite the seemingly chaotic habits of the characters, their differing tolerances for mischief and crime, their ability to drag race-they all tune into Wolfman Jack regardless. His gospel is the only thing they can all agree on: the gospel of rock n’ roll from the lips of a once-revered Disc Jockey.
The kids in the ‘60s may have had Wolfman Jack. John Peel rescued youth culture in the decades after. But for those of us born into an era of pre-programmed radio stuffed to the seams with commercial content, it’s difficult to imagine a golden age of rogue radio DJs. If there was some magical frequency out there playing The Germs or Throbbing Gristle, it sure as shit wasn’t broadcasting in Arlington, Washington. It wasn’t until my dad moved almost an hour south from my small hometown for work that our antenna could pick up the station that would change the way I thought about music, and radio. That station was, of course, 90.3 KEXP.
I am thinking of KEXP now because, well, I am listening to it. Not streaming it online from afar in Brooklyn, but right here, in Seattle. Right now DJ Cheryl Waters is playing “Human Performance” by Parquet Courts. Earlier in her set, Waters spun tracks like Cat Power’s “Sun,” Beirut’s “Elephant Gun,” and the brand new Let’s Eat Grandma cut, “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” among countless tracks I’d never heard before. Each is song different from the last, abiding by no confining genre guidelines-just exceptional music curated with a whole lotta love.
The publicly supported radio station was founded in Seattle in 1972, originally under the call letters KCMU. The switch to KEXP didn’t occur until 2001, right around the time Seattle billionaire Paul Allen commissioned that multi-colored metal tumor to strangle the base of the Space Needle: the Experience Music Project. EMP and Paul Allen partnered with the station, providing it with operating support for a handful of years. It put the EXP in KEXP, I guess you could say.
The station is now independent and operated by Friends of KEXP, and is largely funded through its audience, holding biannual pledge drives and promoting its donation-based membership program year-round. The weeklong pledge drives are a small price to pay for largely interruption free year of music. Upon first hearing commercial-free KEXP, I didn’t think it was legal to do that…broadcast sans advertising. I figured this must be some pirate radio, Pump Up The Volume starring Christian Slater shit. These guys must be in a bunker somewhere. Surely no one else had stumbled upon this gem. I may have been wrong, but it did feel like my own secret station-a safe and nurturing place I could curl up into.
For someone crawling out of a sleepy lumber town, the thought that any contemporary DJ could possibly spin a Wire song was unfathomable. Not only did KEXP play Wire, they would do so at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. They didn’t have to hide their more obscure selections in the wee hours.
Each afternoon returning from high school, I would shut myself in my room, spread out the night’s homework, and turn on the radio to soak in the invaluable musical lessons KEXP had to offer. Sitting at my little desk it was often difficult to focus on the seemingly useless algebra and inaccurate history chapters. How could I when there were far more interesting things floating out of my speakers? Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Fela Kuti, The Cramps, Art Brut…I would jot down lists of the bands I liked, later making a trip to Tower Records (R.I.P.) in the University District or Silver Platters to scavenge for CDs.
The most critical turn in my relationship with KEXP came about in that familiar scenario: sitting at my desk doing homework some weeknight…I think I was preparing for a debate the next morning. I sat, reluctantly flipping through note cards, when a storm rolled over the speakers of my Sony boombox. It was a simple gospel melody, but the voice preaching was nowhere near saintly. It sounded like gravel in a blender, like a diesel truck with emphysema, like an ex-convict whose diet consists solely of petroleum and wing nuts. The song was “Lord I’ve Been Changed” by Tom Waits. Nothing was the same after that. Waits has since become my favorite artist of all time, completely altering my perception of what makes music great, and what makes art worthwhile. I think it’s safe to say that that night changed my life forever, and it was of course all because of the good people at 90.3 FM.
KEXP not only exposed me to music I’d never heard before and to the records I would grow to love, it also taught me how to re-contextualize my tastes and break free from the boundaries of genre. After trying on a new subculture every few years for the better part of a decade, strictly adhering to each one with sonic intake and dress code, it was a relief to let the edges blur a little. I was no longer militant about remaining within the confines of what was punk, or mod, or rockabilly, or ska, or glam-I could eat all of them in one meal and add other flavors should I so desire. KEXP taught me that listening to The Dead Boys one minute and Dolly Parton the next was not only ok, it was totally badass, and far more realistic for the diverse needs of the human mind.
The versatility KEXP champions is not new to the station. Back in the KCMU days amidst a heavy indie rock rotation, they were the first station to play artists like Grandmaster Flash, which is no small thing. Yet another milestone for KCMU, just on the heels of the name change, was that it was the first station in the world to stream high quality (128 kilobit per second) online audio 24/7. That may sound a bit jargony, but think of all the online radio platforms that have followed suit since, and it’s rather impressive.
When people learn that I am a native Washingtonian, they often want to talk about music. And why wouldn’t they? Our alumni include Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Neko Case, Bing Crosby, Rickie Lee Jones, Kurt Cobain, Mark Lanegan, Mia Zapata, Carrie Brownstein, and countless others. But despite Seattle’s rich musical history, it is maintaining a fruitful present as well. 90.3 provides a sort of congealing community approach to nourish that kind of progress. Music is a main artery here, and I like to think KEXP is the heart of it all, pumping blood for the love of it.
Three years ago, on a dim June morning at 6 AM, I sat next to some toast at a shoddy Formica table. The table was in a damp, smelly kitchen exploding with mounds of used tea bags, soiled dishes, and sagging cilantro. Only, the latter wasn’t called cilantro, it was called “coriander,” because this kitchen was in Hackney, East London. Clapton Pond to be exact. And you couldn’t find “cilantro” in all of England, let alone in Clapton Pond. These early hours were perfectly serene for me. The moments before my two hour bus commute to the Southwestern tip of the city were quiet and sad, but most importantly calm. Sometimes I would see a little fox in the garden, foxing around. Other times I would sit with a journal and stare at its blank pages as if my retinas could burn words into them. Whatever occurred on a given morning, silence was crucial for peace. So there was a real hiccup in this pre-work routine when my affable flatmate Tom would bounce into the kitchen, pour himself a stout cup of coffee, and flip on the radio to BBC 6 Music
There couldn’t have been a more disruptive gesture with which to stab my lame little ritual. It made me uneasy, serrated with nerves – until I took a moment to actually listen. When I did, it struck me that what was playing was good. Really good. It wasn’t an online podcast, or a publicly funded radio station with biannual pledge drives. This was the BBC, once the home of John Peel. A government subsidized program, playing the likes of Wire, Kiran Leonard, and Stump at six in the morning. Was it for real?
Before long I was the one turning the dial to 6 Music at the crack of dawn, beating Tom to the punch. On weekends, all of my desire to get out of the neighborhood was extinguished by that four hour round trip commute Mon-Fri, and I would often sit in the kitchen for half of the day with a notebook and the radio. I pretended it wasn’t 2013, pretended that the DJs were my only source of know-how, like when Peel ruled the airways.
It is rare that we ingest contemporary culture alongside a hearty helping of surprise. We know the T.V. schedule, we oversee our own Netflix and HBO viewings, we cherry pick song by song on Spotify. Independent radio stations-not Top 40, but rather the few programs that exist outside of the mainstream-are true arbiters of surprise. You never know what will come next, and that is a scarce thing to come across today. The anticipation that perhaps the following track will be by your new favorite band…there is some dose of fate in that, even for someone who doesn’t really believe in fate.
I eventually became obsessed with the station, rolling into work a little later because I simply had to hear the end of that song, and find out who sang it. I began making unwieldy lists of everything I heard, a habit I maintain to this day. The dawn’s greatest priority was still coffee, but the radio was a close second. I was transfixed…how could something so perfect, so seemingly tailored to my tastes exist?
Founded in 2002, BBC 6’s slogan claims that it is “The place for the best alternative music. From indie pop and iconic rock to trip hop, electronica and dance with great archive music sessions, live music concerts and documentaries.” Somehow that statement still seems to be putting it lightly.
Their roster of DJs boasts names like Iggy Pop, Jarvis Cocker, The Fall’s original bassist Marc Riley (my personal favorite) and John Peel’s own flesh and blood: his youngest son Tom Ravenscroft, who turned me on to the likes of Girl Band and Maribou State. This is of course, the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as every host I’ve come across is either a renowned musician, journalist, or producer of some merit. Brush gently at the surface of any 6 Music presenter and you will uncover a rich history in popular culture. These aren’t merely critics, but fans; giddy enthusiasts with the entire BBC archives, Peel sessions, and exclusive interviews at their fingertips.
Their 24/7 programming spans every genre imaginable, sometimes encapsulated in more flavor-specific shows like Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone and Nemone’s Electric Ladyland. Other times musical styles seem to be picked at random, the only consistent link being the superior quality of each track. One time I heard The Fall in the same set as Tribe Called Quest, which was only to be followed by Kate Tempest. It’s this kind of unfaithfulness that I can appreciate when it comes to record collecting.
If you and I have had a chat about music since June of 2013, chances are you’ve endured me waxing fanatical about this radio station. Not everyone dove right into it, but those who did always mention it when we cross paths. And often, they’ve found their own pocket of programming that I myself have yet to explore. One such convert informed me that he is hooked on Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service, a real Christmas dinner of a show featuring not only oddball tunes, but short stories, bits of radio plays, off-kilter sound effects, and of course, Jarvis’s velveteen voice to guide you through it all.
It seems safe to say that if it weren’t for 6 Music, it may have never occurred to me to have a crack at music journalism. Beyond that, I wouldn’t know or enjoy as much, and this goes for contemporary as well as veteran bands. My world would very likely exclude newcomers such as Happyness, Ezra Furman, and Meilyr Jones, all of whom have cropped up on my “Favorite New Artists” list. Some I’ve seen live, others I’ve interviewed; all have moved me to write about them in the hopes that some searching eye will come across my enthusiasm the same way my ears heard the excitement of the 6 Music DJs.
Although the more obvious takeaway has been finding more music to cram in my brain, there has been a much greater reward from listening to this station, and that is the optimism it’s restored in me as a music lover. A good decade of my pre-college life was dedicated to the discovery and devouring of music, and yet when I moved to New York something snapped. I assumed everything was over. There would never be another Smiths, blah blah blah. It was a juvenile stance to take, and one I hope I’ve completely scrubbed myself of. Because if there is anything that BBC 6 has taught me, it’s that people will never stop making music, and through the science of probability, there will always be at least some good music, some great music even. There never was a “day the music died,” just a constant costume change in a perpetual sonic play. There will never be nothing to listen to. You’ve just got to look harder.
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 [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][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.