The Crookes – interview

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Martin Leay caught up with Sheffield-based NewPoppers, The Crookes, before their blistering sell-out show at London's Borderline. The Crookes' second album “Hold Fast” is out on Fierce Panda in July.

LTW: How's the tour been going so far ”“ any highlights, any lowlights?

Daniel Hopewell (rhythm guitar): In Manchester, someone fucked around with my pedals. That would be a lowlight but other than that, it's been amazing.

George Waite (vocals, bass guitar): This is probably a lowlight ”“ in Hull during “Backstreet Lovers” ”“ a fight broke out and a guy got knocked out right in my line of sight. A right hook floored this guy and I just forgot all of the words. We carried on playing though.

Daniel: The fight came out because of aggressive dancing, so that's good ”“ we whipped them up to a dancing frenzy.

LTW: Are you looking forward to tonight?

Russell: Bates (drums): Last time we played in London, Tom had only been in the band for a couple of weeks”¦ it was an alright show but everyone was pretty nervous about it. [Silent Film Project's Tom Dakin joined the band in December following the departure of lead guitarist Alex Saunders].

Daniel: A lot of people probably haven't seen us since Tom's been in the band”¦ and he's raised the level of our live performance by a long way. So we're looking forward to showing him off.

LTW: How has your sound changed?

George: We always thought of ourselves as a pop band but whenever we'd ask anybody they'd say you may have some catchy tunes but you're not pop. We wanted to really ram it down people's throats that we are a pop band. With “Afterglow”, that's a statement of intent. So is the next single and pretty much every song on the album.

LTW: The first album has the theme of youth running through it. Does the new album have a recurrent theme?

Daniel: Yeah, definitely. We came back to Sheffield and went out with Richard Hawley for a few drinks, which progressed into a load of drinks. He cornered us and started talking about sailors who used to tattoo “hold fast” on their knuckles. When they were rowing they couldn't hear anything because of all the gunshots but they'd lock eyes and say “hold fast”. He was using that as a metaphor for being in a band. When Alex decided to get a real job, it was like hold fast and keep going and that was the overarching theme of it all; that kind of mentality of being in a band and not giving up.

LTW: Howard Marks is on the new album? How did he get involved?

Daniel: The person who owns the studio was friends with him. I'd written a piece about the Hold Fast theme and we needed someone to come and read it out, so he said get Howard in, which was brilliant.

George: He was an absolute gentleman. The night after he'd done his vocal, me and Dan watched the film “Mr Nice” and we both said we were glad we hadn't known any of this before we met him because he was such a normal guy and if we'd known everything about him when we met him, I would have been a quivering wreck because he's such a character. We use it as our intro track now to go on stage to. The writing is really good and his voice coupled with that is such a rallying cry. You listen to the words and how he says them, it's exactly what you'd want to hear before you go on stage and we always get out of the box flying.

Daniel: He's the only person who's ever made a suggestion about a piece of writing I've done that I've agreed with. He decided to change “bastards” to “those fuckers” and it sounds incredible. It's such a good line now.

LTW: You've published a NewPop manifesto online. What is “NewPop”?

George: I think the first person to say the words “NewPop” to describe us was Steve Lamacq. I think he was using it to tie in us, Frankie and the Heartstrings and The Heartbreaks, mainly. We never really felt like we had any like-minded bands in Sheffield. It was really nice to see other bands of our ilk coming to the fore and that's why we wanted to consolidate it like that.

Daniel: It's more the attitude of the bands, as well - the bands that have had to struggle and do it the hard way. That's one of the driving mentalities behind it. If you have a major label backing you, it's not the same. It's a completely different thing.

LTW: The new album's being released in a slightly different way. What's PledgeMusic all about?

Daniel: I think it started off for bands who needed to get a bit of money to actually record the album, so it's not like that for us as we've recorded the album already. It's being released through Fierce Panda still but they said you do all these extra things ”“ you have fanzines, you're always signing things and giving things away and doing all these extra things for your fans ”“ we've got a really loyal fan base who really buy into everything ”“ so we'd be the perfect band to sell some extra stuff, to raise some funds to actually push the album because I think that's what we need; to get it out there.

Russell: And replace our broken equipment. It costs a lot of money to go on tour. All these things are important.

Daniel: People are just having to resort to more creative ways to get some money. Very few bands get labels that come in and push you and if they do, they'll probably drop you again straight away anyway. It's for the bands who have got a following that have done it the hard way, having to build things themselves. It seems like a natural thing to do”¦ trying to get the people you've already won over to help you keep on going. It's a mutually beneficial relationship, I think.

LTW: You combine the modern approach of giving songs away on the Internet with fanzines and handwritten lyric sheets. Is the more personal touch inspired by the bands that you love?

George: Free downloads and last.fm are brilliant because they're so instant and anyone around the world can listen to you. But it's really nice to be able to put something in people's hands as well because I prefer to be able to hold a fanzine in my hands that I can see is handwritten and loads of effort has been put in. I think it's a balancing act between giving people instant gratification but then also giving them the opportunity to have something proper to hold as well. It's more of a connection, I think.

Daniel: When you talk about The Libertines, for example, what made them go from a great indie band to an almost iconic band was the fact that there was this underground cult following. In Europe, not so much in England but it's getting there, in Europe it does feel like there's a bit of an underground thing. Amongst our fans, there's a very strong demographic. They're all very like-minded people... they're kindred spirits.

Russell: A lot of people - every time we play somewhere, they keep on coming back. A lot of people come to a lot of shows.

Daniel: The people who buy into it just completely buy into it.

George: There's so many bands, a lot more in Europe than England, but there's so many bands who will play the venue that we've played the week before and they'll be much more widely recognised and have much more money behind them but we'll draw a bigger crowd purely because we've been to that venue in the middle of Holland about six times already; whereas even though they've got their faces on buses or on 60 foot billboards in Camden High Street, that doesn't necessarily build a relationship with the person in the way you'd like to. But by meeting them, shaking hands with people six or seven times, you get to know all the names of the people in the front row. No matter how much money you've got as a major label, there's no way you can buy that sort of loyalty.

Daniel: Some bands will get everyone at their first show because everyone wants to see them but they won't get anyone at their second show. Every time we do a show there are more people.

Russell: With those bands, it's just so immediate and instant. There are lots of bands that have spent £80,000 or £100,000 on a marketing campaign and £200,000 recording their album in America with some big name producer but then don't sell a thousand copies of their albums and no one goes to their shows.

Daniel: I really like the whole Bright Young Things (The Crookes' fanzine) idea ”“ it's something to buy into ”“ there's a similarity running through all the people. Everyone who comes ”“ you can see the similar qualities in them. I don't know why it is but something attracts them.

LTW: It's as if they feel a part of something.

Daniel: Yeah, there's a song on the album about the idea of people being alone together... just brought together by something.

Russell: There is no one that could ever claim we haven't worked hard to get to the position we're in. There are a lot of bands where their first show in London has 500 people there because the week before they were on the cover of NME. We've built our following over time.

Daniel: It annoys me if you look at things like last.fm, you'll see bands with loads of listeners but the same amount of listens. Whereas we've got a small amount of listeners but absolutely loads of listens, which suggests that people who get into us keep coming back. And it is really frustrating because I think that if it got pushed to a wider audience, it would work. It's just actually getting there.

Russell: There are not many things you can do that don't cost loads of money. To get a big advert in the NME will cost more than our entire budget for the album. So we have to be quite clever with the things we do and put our minds to it a bit.

Daniel: We are writing pop music at heart. To try and compete with top acts on an indie budget is a massive challenge.

LTW: How does the song-writing process typically work for you? Does the music come first or the words?

George: With this album it's mainly been that we'll come up with the melody of the song and depending on how that sounds, Dan will write lyrics to it, and then it's been really good having Tom. At the beginning of the writing process, we were a three piece because Alex had left and we already had studio time booked in. We went in thinking it'd be alright, we don't need a guitarist, we'll just come up with the parts ourselves and we quickly realised that we can't play lead guitar ”“

Russell: ”“ After about 2 hours ”“

George: ”“ And then we just had our heads in our hands, so having Tom come and contribute parts to the songs was great.

LTW: How do the rest of Silent Film Project feel about Tom joining The Crookes?

Tom: They're Crookes fans, so it's alright.

LTW: Daniel once said that a real job wasn't for him. What would each band member do if you weren't in a band?

Russell: I'd be a photographer. Although I quite like the idea of being a male escort for older women ”“ just meals; hanging out with them ”“ no extras.

Dan: I'd have to write, do some form of writing”¦ it's not a proper job, I suppose”¦ but if I wasn't writing I'd be clinically depressed.

George: Sometimes when we go to Holland you have to get a ferry from Hull and they have these really awful cruise ship singers with just a backing track and a microphone and they do popular songs for the 11 people that bother to stay up for it, so I think I could do that. I could do Take That songs.

LTW: In a Jane McDonald style?

George: Yeah, with a dress and a feather boa. Tom has just quit his actual real job so it would be a bit unfair to shove him back into another one.

Daniel: Tom's done things the proper way round ”“ he's given up a job to be in a rock n roll band.

All words by Martin Leay. You can read his review of The Crookes at London's Borderline here.

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