Little Comets: Guerilla Gigs, Brushes With The Law & Storming Cambridge Lecture Halls

In search of the elusive Little Comets.

Guerilla gigs, brushes with the law and storming Cambridge University lecture halls: Little Comets are not ones to go about things the traditional way when it comes to getting noticed and building a fan base. Yet illegalities aside, the band’s concepts and ways in which they aim to get people to listen to their music are both refreshing and innovative. After a very public separation with Columbia Records last year Little Comets finally released their debut album last month. We chatted to drummer Mark and vocalist Rob about life since the band’s departure from Columbia, illegal downloads and their excitement about playing SXSW next month.

Your long-awaited debut album ‘In Search of Elusive Little Comets’ was finally released last month. What have the reactions been like so far?
Mark: It’s been really good. We’ve been playing gigs around the last couple of weeks and people have been singing along to the more obscure songs that people wouldn’t have really heard. So I think that going by that, and the fact that people have been saying really nice things, it’s been well received.
Rob: Yeah, it’s been really good. My favourite part of this tour has been the singing during the songs that no one should know.

Your album was mixed by Rich Costey, but you mastered and produced the album yourselves. Was this one way for you to exercise an element of creative control over your own material, or was there more to it than that?
M: I think that it’s really a part of the song writing process. I think that after we’ve written a song we won’t play it live first, we’ll record it. We don’t really do demos, so when we record something the first time, it’s usually the last time. So we used this opportunity to really sectionalise everything and put some of the details into the parts so everything fits together. Whether it’s a bit of percussion or a slide of a bass, it all makes sense in the context of the song.
R: We like to compartmentalise all the instruments and then work on each song, so it’s a bit of a gruelling process, but it definitely works doing it that way for us.

You left Columbia Records last year, before the release of the album. How has that affected the band and the album’s release, and how did you manage to wrestle back the completed album to release yourselves?
R: You know, it’s just not nice for someone to ring you up and say… Well we didn’t actually get a phone call from them, but just to hear that somebody that purported to put a lot of faith in your music doesn’t want anything to do with it any more. So I think that the first few couple of weeks it was pretty depressing.
If anything, we figured that it was our hard work that had got us to the point of signing with Columbia in the first place. Especially because we recorded the album ourselves, at least musically we felt that we still retained the ownership over everything. I think that it would have been letting ourselves down if we hadn’t let the album be released. It’s frustrating that it’s been so long between being recorded and being released.

So how long ago was it actually finished, the final product?
R: It felt like when we were children! It was about a year and a half ago. So even just in terms of going on tour we’re still playing the songs that we recorded last year, so we had to have a bit of a refresher, and it was like, “Okay, we’re going to actually have to like these songs again!”

You’re now signed with independent label Dirty Hit. What are the band’s experiences and the dynamics now that you’ve almost reversed the norm by going from a major label to an indie?
R: The thing is we’ve all got clearly defined roles now. We know what we do, and our manager knows what he does and there’s no crossover. Everybody’s where they want to be, we don’t have to speak to him everyday and check to see if this is happening or that is happening, and he won’t ring us and say “Have you finished this song yet?”

You’re famed for your trademark guerilla gigs, some of which have caused a few brushes with the police. Where would you say is the most unusual place you’ve ever performed?
M: Unusual? Well I’d say that playing lecture theatres is pretty unusual. There is a lot of lecture theatre footage on the internet so I’d say that that is still pretty ridiculous. We did one quite recently in Paris and it still seems as ridiculous when we’re doing it now. It’s a real social experiment.
R: It’s totally progressed as well, and it’s taking on a new element of danger in Paris. Over here we can just ramp up the Geordie accent a bit and, especially down south, people will be a bit like, “How would these people possibly know that you’re not supposed to burst into a lecture hall and play music.”
But if someone had accosted us in the streets of Paris and started shouting at us in French then I don’t think that we wouldn’t have been able to weave our way out of it.

Do you find that it’s much harder to organise these types of gigs and keep them secret now that the band’s a lot more popular?
M: There’s not really that much organising to it! We’ll kind of go to a university and pretend to be students and have a recce of the lecture halls. It’s easy to get in, honestly, as long as there’s not a security guard.
R: But we’ve also got our own little stories for why we’re wandering around with our guitars, like saying it’s our friend’s birthday and that we’re going to go and sing to them when they come out of the lecture theatre.
M: And they’re all so offended when it turns out that you’ve lied.
We did one during a Cambridge University lecture and there was a security guy or caretaker and he was like, “You’re not going to go in there and play are you?” and we were like, “No, it’s a lecture, don’t be ridiculous.” And then when we did, I felt almost sad because he was so offended that we’d lied to him.

You made your record available to stream via your Facebook page two weeks before its official release. Do you think that things like this are the way forward in terms of promoting a band’s music and encouraging fans to buy it?
R: I don’t mind people illegally downloading music but I do think that it’s really important that if you download music that you really love, and that you have a real passion for, it’s a really good way of supporting the creativity of that band, especially if they’re on an independent label, to go and buy their music.
With download links and everything it’s a great way of introducing people to your music, and then if they don’t like it then fair enough, we’ve not really lost anything as they wouldn’t buy our music anyway. But if somebody listens to it and likes it I think it’s almost a reciprocal arrangement.
It’s such a shame that somebody can almost unwittingly kill the career of a person that they like just by not purchasing their music. Especially at the level that we’re at, it’s very important as every single person who buys a CD or our tracks on iTunes really does make a difference.

You’re touring America next month and playing at SXSW. Are you looking forward to it and is there anywhere you’re playing that you’re most excited about?
M: It’s America, so yes! We’ve never played outside Europe before and I think that just as people – we’re going to America and that’s crazy. It’s not something that we’d really get to do. Like people ask what we’re doing next and it’s like, “We’re going to America with work.”
It’s such a bizarre experience, some of the things that have happened and that we’ve done, we’ve just kind of taken them in our stride a bit.
Rob, Mickey and I would all play together when we were 13 and make jokes about what we’d be doing in the future. And now it’s got to that stage where we’re still like “What? That’s ridiculous” So I’m still not convinced that we’re going yet until we’re on that plane!

Finally, what plans have you got for the remainder of the year, and have you confirmed any festival appearances yet?
R: No. Well we’d obviously love to do some festivals, we’ve never played Glastonbury and that would be amazing. And we’d play Latitude again, that was amazing and that was a good experience…
M: That was our first festival. We were playing there and then we stayed the night and experienced it as festival goers. That was the first festival that we’d ever gone to as a punter, I think only Matt had gone to festivals before, and it was such a strange but brilliant experience. Like partying in the woods, there was a club on in the woods. It’s just amazing, so good.
R: So festivals, and the we’ve got to find a good space to hopefully do a bit more recording across the summer.

The band’s debut album ‘In Search Of Elusive Little Comets’ is out now.