The Gramotones – an interview by Cheryl Hughes
I had the privilege of seeing The Gramotones last year at The 99’s Run of The Mill album launch and they totally blew me away, their sharp, melodic harmonies reminded me of the sixties, of great bands like The Hollies and The Beatles. But this band have so much more to give and brought the sixties sound to a modern audience. I was lucky enough to go and visit them in their Gramohome and bombard them with questions about their influences, lyrics and how they interact with their fans. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
How did you start out with this band, I know you both came from other bands but how did you develop this is into the band you are now?
Sid: Me and Jake always wanted to write together, so one cold wintery day it was like, 3ft of snow and we were bored and no one wanted to rehearse and within a couple of hours we more or less had our first EP written. It was instant. I had some studio time booked with the other band and we decided we weren’t gonna do it but I was really looking forward to going in, it was just after my birthday and I had the money together. So we had these songs, got a band together and just recorded them to see what it sounds like. Ryan who was already in my band with me came in on base, then he had a mate drummer called James so he came in, we rehearsed the day before went in the studio and then did the EP. It just felt so right.
Jake: Literally met James the day before we went to record them.
Sid: Very awkward recording conversation
Jake: Yeah James said he was terrified of me for some reason, he really liked my old band but he thought I’d be really strict! A musical Napoleon Bonaparte, dictating what to do, but he was alright after a bit.
Sid: He’s not terrified of you now!
Jake: I’m the softest person in the world really
Sid: I just get told I’m slim.
Seeing as you recorded them some time ago and rough, have you rerecorded them all again?
Sid: No we haven’t really, we recorded M62 live
Jake: Then we have got “Horror Draped in Dry Ice”, but it’s a lot different version. A lot of people love them but in our eyes because they are so raw we haven’t done them complete justice yet. I think the M62 recording that we have put up sounds a lot better, much fuller.
Sid: We always feel the need to progress. I used to go home from our rehearsals, shaking cos it was so right, I was worried about what I was going to do with the other band but I couldn’t turn my back on this.
Jake: At the time I was worried because I knew how good it was, but he was still in his other band, The Manyanas and had been since he was 16.
Sid: Friends I grew up with. I came up with about 30 different ways about how I could get these members into our new band without them actually playing anything, just so I didn’t have to let them down but we had 4 members and the sound was perfect!
Jake: (Laughing) We would have ended up like Earth Wind and Fire with about 18 members.
Where did the name come from?
Jake: I got these rosemary beads and it had a cross on it, the cross came off and I had this gramophone pendant so I put it on beads- which I have since lost- and I thought we could change the phone bit to tone. I just love plays on words. I love changing words and making new ones. If we could get a memorable name but not searchable on Google then you have cracked it. I mean Peace are a band at the moment and if you put peace in Google you will get loads of results. Now you can find them quite easy cos they are getting quite big but when they started I wondered how they would be found. The name has helped us cos people are remembering it. We had to think of the name; I think we were “The Gramotone”
Sid: The S came from the pick of the hat, we had Gramotones, The Gromotone, The Gramotones, and The Gramotones came out 3 times so it was fate
What influences your lyrics?
Sid: I’m more, me, it’s always about me.
Jake: I’m more of an imagination kind of person
Sid: We both switch, depending on the mood we are in. If you are in a whimsical mood you could write “Marjorie” or if your girlfriends pissing you off then you write “Wrong Side of the Road” or something. If I’m having a bad time, Jake can usually tell and he writes songs for me.
Jake: I write as if I was him when he is sad.
Sid: and he knows how I feel straight away and puts it down as lyrics so we kind of have this telepathy between us, a kind of understanding that we both use. (Laughs) Derek Akora will love that!
Jake: I think the tunes usually start off with one of us having an idea. I like the idea of writing about completely daft things, like there’s one called “Marjorie” that we do where he plays a stylophone but that’s about a woman that wants to go on holiday abroad but her husband will only take her to Wales. I just like the idea of challenging myself to write something completely daft or completely boring to make something more accessible rather than do I love you baby o baby…
Sid: That’s what I do (Laughs)
Jake: But Sid will come in on that and put his imagination head on and finish the tune, or vice versa. I’ll help finish the songs off that he has come up with.
Sid: It helps that we have respected each other’s tunes from day one; we know what each other wants now. You like my ideas, I like yours
Do you make songs with stories usually or pick a topic?
Sid: Jake picks the titles first along with the lyrics.
Jake: I have a book that has everything I’ve written in it, it’s quite full and I’m quite superstitious that if I get a new one I’m gonna be rubbish, but in there is just lists of titles, drawings, everything that I think could be turned into music. I’ll write loads of stuff and then one day when I find a tune and go through my book and see if I can get some lyrics and make something out of it all.
Sid: I don’t work like that, I’m more in the moment so most of the time we will finish them in a couple of days. I usually have a melody first which I tend to have first then I’ll get a line and it will grow from there, the better ones for me are done within a couple of days.
Jake: We write differently but what we end up getting, sounds like us collectively. Which is good, I’m not the kind of person that’s like “that’s my tune”. I work a lot on rhythm of the words, I like lyrics to almost gives you the rhythm already, you can already hear what it will sound like and then you can add chords around it. Sometimes I’ll have the melody first and then try. I really hate singing something that I don’t believe in, if it doesn’t speak to me I just don’t like singing it.
Sid: Where’s the emotion? You can see it, you can tell if you go watch a gig and their not enjoying singing it, there’s no pain or emotion, it’s not felt.
Your harmonies are wonderful, how do you work them out?
Sid: Jakes very good at the harmonies, him and Ryan work them out really, I’m getting better but I used to think “How are they working that out?” I used to think that’s amazing but I have no idea what’s going on basically.
Jake: Me and Ryan have had a bit more schooling than Sid as far as music theory.
Sid: Its training your ear really.
Jake: Plus Ryan dads a musician, my dad’s a musician so we have just picked it up. I’ve always been into harmony bands. I usually end up taking the high one, Sid the middle and Ryan the low one but sometimes its swaps and sometimes we swap mid-sentence. Like M62, I sing the lead vocal but when Sid comes in he takes the lead vocal and I go above, but our voices bend in together so well that no one notices really.
Sid: It takes work, a lot of work. We aren’t trying to constantly be original cos that’s enforced but we try little different things to make it our own.
Jake: You really are adding something into the mix that could go wrong; it’s like a violin is harmonies, you know how a violin can be the most beautiful instrument you have ever heard – in the right hands, and it can be the most diabolical sound in the wrong hands it’s horrible but it’s like that with harmonies! You’re really putting yourself on the line and taking a big risk by doing it, and I don’t think a lot of bands are willing to risk it. Even just you Cheryl, asking about us about harmonies, it shows that people are noticing that as our kind of thing.
The other thing is, the other bands that do it, like Mumford and Sons are all acoustic bands which is a lot easier as you can hear yourself more but when you’re playing in the mix and your all going for it with a ridiculously loud drummer – it’s like a bit of a punk sound with sixties pop harmonies, you know the Beatles and the Hollies they all did it when they couldn’t hear themselves so no one has got an excuse.
How often do you practice as a band?
Sid: Not really enough! We write about 2-3 times a week at the moment. It’s just me and Jake, then Ryan will come once we get our ideas and then James comes in, but it’s a bit tedious for James, the drummer, cos there’s a lot of waiting round. Most of the time we work on vocals, cos that’s our main thing, that’s what stands out, so James does a lot of sitting around.
Do you get nervous before you go on stage?
Sid: No, not when you have been doing it for so long. I used to be in other bands and stuff but am so confident that what we are putting out is good and I can see people’s expressions when we are playing. It’s a weird transition cos I feel that I’m quite shy off stage but I feel like this is my time, people can look at me now when I am on stage. It’s just when you have a guitar in your hand there’s just some kind of power you get, can’t explain it. (Sings) It’s the power of love!
When you are on stage, what do you like from your audience?
Jake: Our songs, some aren’t for dancing they are for listening to really.
Sid: If people are smiling and enjoying it then that’ll do for me,
Jake: We like a bit of banter between songs, I can’t stand pretentious bands that don’t interact, they don’t smile, they don’t say anything in between songs, either say something worth saying or don’t bother. I just think music in general is ready for a band that’s a bit more fun. I mean, The Beatles were fun as people but all the sixties bands were, they were having a good time, they didn’t have any ‘look at me, I’m God’ thing going on.
Sid: I love watching the early sixties bands on YouTube, taking the piss out of the interviewee, but you can tell they are having a good time, they know that the position they were in was so ridiculous to them but yeah, we don’t like to take ourselves seriously.
Sid: Obviously the attitude in the sixties came with the tough times, which is quite similar to some of the stuff going on now, tory government and credit crunch.
Jake: But no one’s saying something musically that rebels against anything, in the seventies they had something to say but now there is no good band that has good political tune, no band has good enough lyrics to portray it. In the seventies it must have been so easy to get yourself noticed, all you had to say was f* on TV an you would have 14 year olds going WOW but now to be controversial now you would literally have to murder someone on live TV, cos everyone has seen it before. It’s been done before. The swear words that were offensive don’t mean anything now! If you’re going to be controversial then you do a political tune like Bob Dylan and actually say something, don’t just say a word, say a few that actually mean something.
Which songs do you feel your audience connect with?
Sid: What we have noticed is that there doesn’t just seem to be one song that’s good, we get so many comments for each separate song, which is a good things ‘cos it means we are progressing.
Jake: People have a different favourite tune.
Sid: It’s great for us ‘cos it means people like what we are doing and its meaning the same to them as it does to us but whatever they get out of our songs is great.
Jake: I think some of our saddest songs make people happy because they relate to it, just because it’s a sad tune doesn’t mean it makes you sad it means ‘oh this is something can relate to’.
Sid: My fave one to play live is M62, cos I get to sit back on that one, I can sit back and see what’s going on at the gig. A lot of the ones that we like aren’t out yet.
Jake: There are a lot of songs that no one has heard
Are you going to make them all into an album?
Sid: A few songs we have planned for the future, a few we have got in mind, but if we had an album they wouldn’t fit on there. We plan to record them someday.
Jake: It’s just getting them in the bank, I mean a lot of bands, work hard on a first album and it’s amazing and then they have second album blues, they have clearly put all their eggs in one basket, putting all their best songs into the first album over 2 years and then when its successful they are told “Right you have 6 months to come up with your second album”. They just can’t keep up with the work load. You know they have to do the plugging and the tours and the promotions so there’s no time to write a second album, it seems to have an effect. Hopefully we have got ones that we can spread over a few albums.
Sid: We are a live band at the minute, people know us through playing live, so you pick the ones that will sound the best live and that people respond to so we focus on that at the minute.
Tell me about your upcoming gigs, you always make them interesting!
Sid: We did the secret gig at the Hilton, a few more are in the pipeline, we just try to keep things as interesting as possible, we don’t want to be a Moho band cos we have done that before.
Jake: We have done stuff like playing a gig on a barge, and stuff like that` cos now you seem to go to a venue watch a band, watch the band not speak to you, watch them swinging their hair about looking really cool, and then you buy the CD and then you’re supposed to like them and it’s like; that’s all well and good but in this day and age you have to be a bit more inventive and try the bit harder and try and do something for your fans.
Sid: Get them involved.
Jake: Make them feel like they are a part of something.
Sid: I have never been up to the Hilton, it’s the 39th floor.
Jake: It was the highest gig in Manchester, it must be and we are pretty pleased to take that title to be honest.
What’s the song that made you go- that’s what I want to do?
Sid: What’s that Jason Donovan one? (sings) “Especially for youuu ….”
Sid: (Laughing) No, no that’s not my answer that was the first EP I bought for my mum! In primary school in year 5 we were in a choir we did the Beatles “Help” and I just remember thinking that’s such a good song. What an explanation that is! Quotes by Mr Sid!
Jake: I really liked Status Quo as a child, but the first one that got me into it was like Caroline by Status Quo but when I really started listening more it was like Ocean Colour Scene and Blur and things.
Sid: Can you put that as my answer too…?
Jake: I really got into the Brit pop era too.
Sid: We can just remember it being sunny when ‘Wonderwall’ came on, there was something in the air then. There’s never been anything bigger than Brit pop, to be part of something like that again is what I would aim to be apart of. It’s a good question that, it gets you thinking, it’s a lot different when you were a kid cos obviously your force fed the charts but you know there’s something good out there.
Jake: I don’t listen to music like I used to when you start writing music you listen to it completely differently. It does take away something, you enjoy it for different reasons, as a kid I just enjoyed it but now when I listen I know why I like it.
Sid: Your listening and going Oh I like what they did there, o that’s interesting’ so you listen completely differently. It’s like it becomes something you study as well.
How do you market yourselves to your fans and get people coming to your exciting gigs?
Jake: There are a lot of bands that I know that I still am a fan of and like to check out what they are doing for their fans. When bands are getting bigger they don’t reply to fans comments and questions on Facebook, even like when a fan asks you to retweet something, and bands don’t, I just think well that’s lazy it only takes a second. Treat it as, Facebook is like the Ducie Bridge, all your fans are in there, but you got to go and speak to them, make an effort to speak to them, don’t wait for them, it’s not an ego boost. It’s there to connect with your fan base.
Sid: Marketing has become an art form itself, with CD covers and such we try and make it interesting, like our CD’s are made to look like vinyl’s. People need imagery and everything that goes with it, people don’t just listen to the song on the radio, they want to see a video as well and then they want to go and check out who you are. The thing I worry about with Twitter, do you lose a bit of mystique, like David Bowie wouldn’t have been half as interesting if twitter was about cos everyone would have already known, there’s got to be a balance, so that we are still bringing surprises but being personal as well.
Jake: The secret gig we did, the meeting time was a quarter to nine and at 20 to 9 people were still tweeting “where is the gig?” So you can keep things surprising, you just can’t tell people and let it slip out. If you were good enough at it you could have a small fan base in another country which you wouldn’t have been able to do without a record company at one time.
Sid: We have a fan in Singapore haven’t we?
Jake: Yeah Ecelia, yeah she tweets us every day, its great!
That’s great! So what are you focusing on at the minute?
Jake: At the moment we are putting our focus on connecting with our fan base, people that come to the gigs and buy our CDS and appreciate us, or just watch videos on-line, we do a lot with other bands but at the moment I’m just focused on keeping the people that like us happy.
Sid: There obviously putting a lot of time in to coming to see us or watch our videos.
Jake: Some people travel quite a way to see us and we do really appreciate it too.
I left the Gramohome feeling so excited that such a great band is in the musical atmosphere! Their dedication to their songs and to their fans is unmoving and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next and all the new songs they have stored up! If there is a band to check out and follow this year it’s these guys. Check out the other live reviews on Louder Than War about The Gramotones.
All words by Cheryl Hughes. More work by Cheryl on Louder Than War can be found here.