Last year there was a great demo floating round town. It was hard to get a listen to. Covert hearings down headphones at music conferences. A whispered buzz.
The songs were great. Brilliantly crafted with a great sound. The crackle of electricity, the analogue crafting of classic sound and great melody. Yet another twist in the English beat with a modern feel.
Folks are a Manchester based band who have crafted perfect songs, they have the rock n roll and they have the warmth, their songs ooze melody and the classic swing of the greats.
There’s not much space left in classic rock n roll, that heavily populated area once occupied by the Beatles, Stones and all manner of other bands but somehow Folks have carved out a niche all of their own. The Manchester based band have taken their own natural innate talent and crossed it with three years of graft, honing down their sound to perfection.
Every note is perfect, every nuance nuanced, every emotion covered. They have got a great raw sound, the right vehicle for the guitar rush aided by recording at the legendary Toerag studios in London. A studio where antique mics and analogue equipment really captures the primal rush of great rock n roll and the electric beat. A place where the old school two inch tape machines are made to sweat.
Folks understand that if you are going to make classic music you have to record in a classic way but that doesn’t stop them from getting a drummer versed in hip hop to give their songs a contemporary swing and a swing and take them away from being a pure retro operation. They have that classic northern beat rush about them but also the swing of classic rock n roll, that sort of over loaded valve amp rush of Black Crowes etc.
About a year ago their manager played me their tunes on his iPhone player during In The City music conference, every song was a piece of total perfection and that is just not that common.
Each song had it’s own certain style, someone really knew what they were doing with every tune sounding like a hit in it’s own right.
A year later and the band are ready to go. They have been doing some low key touring and the inner core of Scotty Anderson (vocals) and the brilliantly named Pete Fonda (guitar and main song writer) with full support from Lead Guitar – Thom Fripp, Bass Guitar – Harry Gumery, Drums – Elliot Barlow, Keys – Wil Akroyd, creating a full band – making it work beyond the dreaded backing band scenario.
As they sit in the Manchester city centre bar there is that collective optimism that the band is about to set out on a proper adventure into the big time.
How did this all come about?
‘We met through mutual friends four years ago. I instantly knew that Scott was the lead singer I wanted for my songs when I heard his voice. I knew that he could carry a tune.’
”ËAt the time Pete had some songs and he played them to me and they sounded great and I knew I had to be in this band.’
‘I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid and I didn’t have an outlet for them. I didn’t want to be the frontman at the time so I needed a singer. I have got a lot more confident with my singing nowadays and there is one track on the album that I sing now. I have my own showpiece (laughs). Singing is something I might do more in the future but when I met someone with a golden voice like Scott, it was kind of mind-blowing.’
‘When we got together doing demos and stuff we knew should work together. Like anything, if it’s working you should run with it.’
As a band you love the old analogue recording way of working.
‘At first when we went out and did gigs and then stopped gigging so we could work on material, to work out what we wanted to do. We took our time. We wanted to get it right. We also enjoyed meeting and working with the legendary producer, John Leckie. That was really good. We were happy to listen to what he had to say. Sonically it was like he took a photograph of us. It was a fast session, we could only afford three days in the studio so there was no time to fuck around!
After that we thought let’s get out of the live game and really work on the songs, really refine the songs, so that we could find our own sound. We were using Protools at first but we quickly realised that it was not for us. We found it too soulless and working on proper tape was a different ball game, the songs came out the right way, we could use ADT and old effects from the late sixties which are as pertinent nowadays as they were then. The only problem was that then, in those days, it was so expensive to use that only a privileged few could use them.
I remember seeing a clip of Tony Wilson that someone showed me from the late seventies talking about emerging technology of digital recording and he was saying it will change the world because every musician will be able to use it and that’s the reason that there is more music now but for me I prefer using tape. It just sounds better for the sound we are trying to get.’
‘Listen to the Beach Boys recordings, that kind of music really suits tape.’
‘The guitar sounds great because it is compressed onto the tape each. I love that variation onto tape that each individual reel adds. There’s something about the natural compression you get with analogue, every analogue channel adds some sonic weirdness.
When we first started on the 4 track at Toerag studios there was space for drums, bass and piano and that was it and you would have to get a great performance because it was going to get mixed down before you added the next layers which was what was great working with Liam. It was not mixing as going along like with with pro tools, it had to be done there and then. I really liked this way of working. There was no hanging around in the studio, it was in at 12 and out at 10. It was a buzz to go back and listen to it that evening and it always sounded great.
We used these great amps in Toerag, the Fender tweed amp, the great thing about these amps is that they were invented before PA systems and the have an in-socket that gets natural distortion and we used that for all the guitar but unfortunately we did bust the amp by overloading it!’
‘It was interesting for me to work on the lyrics which Pete had written. We spent a lot of time doing demos and chatting about the lyrics, what they meant and what I thought they meant, the emotion that went into singing them wasn’t false, it was true to the heart, it meant a lot to me.’
‘I’m not the type who says this is the demo of my song, this is how it goes. We would work together on the lyrics and we would be very clear to what wanted, at another session we used some of the suggestions from producer Luther Russell, we were thinking does that arrangement work, listening to advice’
‘We were aiming for some goal, to make music as good as we could, but, especially, it had to be something that we were really happy with. We took our time doing it. People make music for record deals but we decided let’s not be concerned with that, let’s make tracks we want.’
‘ When it came to getting a record deal we didn’t want to work with major labels because record companies are big unwieldy corporations. With digital recording taking over the game they have become big unwieldy operations, they are out of the game. I don’t think it’s best system to make songs anymore. Not for the way we wanted to work. We got lots of offers from labels to make budgets for recordings but we thought if we were getting three hundred quid to work on a building site we could save up and do it ourselves, we didn’t need them.’
‘We were doing what was like an apprenticeship and we knew when we were ready.’
‘We worked hard’
‘You can’t mow the lawn till the grass has grown (laughs).’
‘When we recorded the demo, we had some singles made up and one went to Verve records in New York. They offered us a little demo deal, this is the home of Duke Ellington- which was quite something.’
‘Again that was a great lift up, they said ”Ëwhich studio do you want to go to?’ and ”Ëhow much you need for planes and hotels?’ and we said ”Ëeh! we will drive and stay on floors and save money on recycled recording tapes.’ We had already got our template by then when we recorded. We knew what we were doing, our remit was to get brilliant demos, people brighter than us had already done this kind of thing and it took us a while to learn this shit.’
‘When we had the songs finished, we built a band to play them. We had to do it right. We didn’t want just everybody in the band to play like session musicians. They had to have the feel for the music and we wanted them to feel like they own it. If you listen to the album, we all made it, when we play it live it’s like it’s like the recordings squared!’
Pete, Are you benevolent dictator?
”ËI don’t want people in a band where I tell them what to do, it’s a bit hippie dippie but I said listen to what we have recorded and show me how you would do it. Eventually I may not always write all the songs. If Elliot wrote 5 amazing songs I wouldn’t be daft enough not to do them.
When we started playing with the band they had listened to everything! They were telling us forgotten chords in the songs! I don’t what to be on stage with robots.’