28 September 2010

Orphan Boy Answers 5

Hands down, the biggest surprise this past summer was Orphan Boy’s “Passion, Pain & Loyalty” (link to review). Rubbing elbows with everything from Madchester to shoegaze, this is a band that may know the past really well, may know all the trends out there at the moment, but are not content with simply rehashing or reproducing some one else’s sound. What I like the most, especially about the final track, is that they hit on something that Bowie did: how to balance the experimentally inaccessible with the accessible. I knew I had to ply the band with a few questions, so I would like to personally thank Robert Cross for taking the time to Answer 5.

(Orphan Boy / Photographer: Roger Sargent)

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

When I was growing up, my top five bands were The Clash, The Pixies, The Stone Roses, Radiohead and Pink Floyd, in that order. Then you start to veer off a bit: Tom Waits, DJ Shadow, I Am Kloot, Billy Bragg, Dexys, Pulp. Then you start meeting loads of great unsigned bands on your quest: Nacional, Frazer King, The Whiskycats, The Heartbreaks, Richard Dutton, The Dandilions. Then you get a bit disillusioned with music and start drifting into other areas: five-a-side football, Charles Bukowski, Chekhov’s short stories, wildlife documentaries, Grand Theft Auto. That kind of thing.

2. "Passion, Pain & Loyalty" is definitely different from your debut, "Shop Local." How did you approach composing and recording your sophomore effort, and were you consciously trying to go in a new direction?

With the first album, we wanted it to sound urgent and unpredictable. We banned choruses. After that we took a step back, started using keyboards, trying out dance beats, using simpler structures and arrangements, thinking more about melody, writing more reflective and personal lyrics. The result is a more accessible, assured and evocative record, I think. But we love both of them just the same.

3. I find it interesting how the press typically wants to place a band as part of a city's scene, whether London or Manchester, Los Angeles or New York. But the reality is that most of these bands come from elsewhere. I am more interested in knowing what parts of Cleethorpes still seep in and/or have formed your music.

You make a good point there. Manchester-based musicians have suffered because of the city’s strong heritage, much the same way that Liverpool-based musicians have. People (or, more accurately, industry people) can’t seem to make sense of anything from Manchester that doesn’t sound like a ‘Manchester band.’ And so there is a lot of great music from the city that has been ignored by the mainstream because they couldn’t put a label on it. Thankfully this seems to be changing slightly, with the new wave of Manchester bands, which don’t sound like Oasis, New Order, etc, but are still getting recognition. Like you say though, many of them are not Mancunian, and people are saying they should not be included because of this. Which is untrue and unfair. It’s hard enough for a small-town band to move to a big city and fight to win exposure, only to be denied that exposure because they are not native to that city. It’s a no win situation for these bands. From our point of view, no one was ever going to pay much attention to the Cleethorpes scene, were they? But that’s a shame because there are some great bands in Cleethorpes. And yes Cleethorpes does play a big part in our lyrics these days. I figured that tons of people had written about life in the city and yet you rarely hear anyone singing about deserted docks with cobbled streets and one-armed bandits.

(Orphan Boy / Photographer: Roger Sargent)

4. After listening to "Popsong," I really want to hear your take on the music industry.

My take on it is far worse than anything described in “Popsong.” From what I can gather, for the last five years the major labels (in Britain, at least) have wasted all of their money on, and forced upon the public, endless amounts of safe, soulless guitar music. And now no one is getting signed and the labels are claiming that people aren’t buying records and that guitar music is not fashionable – it’s no fucking wonder after five years of the Kooks, Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian. The mainstream press is looking to the big labels (who bankroll the mags through advertising) for the next Strokes and who’ve they come up with? The Drums? Aren’t they just The Strokes but ten years too late? So mags like “The NME” are re-trawling through past glories, digging up the ghost of Oasis, The Libertines and (in a recent issue) Jimi Hendrix for their cover stars. The mainstream is dead on its arse. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great bands out there. I’ve heard them with my own ears, just by getting around a few gigs and using the Internet. Writing good music is not hard. All you need is a soul and a crap job. We’ve written two great albums on our dinner-breaks while the pop-stars can barely string an idea together. But the A&R people are not looking for that, they’re looking for radio-friendly production with catchy choruses; they’re looking for mad haircuts and zany costumes; they’re looking for a scene, a soap opera. They think this is what people get excited about. They think this is what captures the imagination. It’s not. When we play gigs in Manchester or Cleethorpes, our mad little fanbase (full of random waifs and strays from all corners of society) goes nuts; they throw themselves around the stage and sing every word back at us. They don’t get this excited because we look cool, because we don’t look cool. We look like what we are, which is a bunch of scruffy Northern chancers. But we got songs. And after all the hype dies down, that’s all people really take to their hearts. The A&R men don’t know this because they’ve not grown up listening to records, they’ve not lived their young lives by the beats and the tunes and the sounds of great music. They’re money men. Twats from business school, talking about demographics and market patterns and synchronisation. They follow each other around like well-dressed fools, desperately trying to figure out whom the hip band is that everyone wants to see; all the A&R men cramming into one venue, all trying to outbid each other for some doomed buzz band. They know fuck all. They’re finished. Viva la revolution. The cabbages are coming now, the Earth exhales...So that’s my take on it all. Would we take a publishing deal with Sony if they offered us a shitload of money? Yeah, probably. I got bills to pay.

5. I am very intrigued by the imagery bands employ; so on that note, what message are you trying to convey with the cover of "Passion, Pain & Loyalty"?

There was the donkey photo, which just kind of looked right. And then there was another photo which suggested more of a story and had a lot more happening, with the three of us as hitch-hikers. In the end we went with the donkey photo because it just looked more striking. I voted for the other cover actually but lost out. In the end I think the donkey photo works best, especially with the way our art guy (Keef Finnegan) has played around with the colours and tones. There is the strong Cleethorpes connection made by this cover, which is reflected in some of the lyrics. And purple and sepia, who’d have thought it? Together at last.

Keep up with Orphan Boy at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Popsong” from their YouTube Channel: orphanboyuk.

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