Interview Standard Fare: ‘The Important Thing Is That We Did It As A Band’

Gareth Ware conducts the final interview with the Sheffield band.

As anyone might have guessed from the merest glance on our blogs page over the last month or so, some of us are pretty big fans of Sheffield trio Standard Fare and suitably saddened to hear of their imminent demise. We’re not the only ones, though. In a pub round the corner from the 100 Club (where Standard Fare are shortly due to make their final bow at London Popfest), This Many Boyfriends’ Richard Brooke is kicking his heels with a wistful look practically carved into his face. “They’re one of my favourite bands and I’ll miss them very much. They’re really exciting live, they just really go for it and they’re quite punky. It’s awesome. I don’t know who we’re going to play with anymore. I really don’t. They were just perfect. But now we won’t be able to. Great.”

The reflective mood continues later on, back at the 100 Club. In the corner of a stairwell, Fortuna Pop! head honcho Sean Price offers: “They’re really nice people who wrote some amazing songs. I’ve been fortunate to work with the likes of Allo Darlin’, who I think are one of the best pop bands out there and I think Standard Fare are right up there with them. I really can’t understand why they’re not huge and massive.” Elizabeth Morris from the aforementioned Allo Darlin’ got in touch via e-mail to offer; “It’s hard to put into words why Standard Fare meant a lot to me. Their songs seemed so important and meaningful and they played them with so much heart. They are amazing musicians too, which is to be celebrated. I will miss them soundtracking my life, but I will cherish the records they made.”

It’s something of a jarring juxtaposition to find the band themselves in high spirits as we squeeze around a corner table in the pub for their last-ever interview, which they’ll later claim felt like the most relaxed they’ve ever done. “Amazing!” beams drummer Andy Beswick. Standard Fare figurehead Emma Kupa, when asked if there was a set of ambitions, goals or values in mind during the group’s conception, offers a typically candid response. “We weren’t looking to the future, we were just playing for the sake of it. We never had a plan at all, it just happened to an extent!”

Kupa is quick to quick to concede that perhaps as a result, the significance of certain events has only really registered during or even after the event. “Things have happened - like people singing back at us or something - and you realise ‘this is something that I wanted to happen and now it is and that’s really cool’. When we played our last gig in Sheffield a couple of weeks back, we actually had somewhere to go to before doing an encore, and being able to hear the noise that everyone was making for us to go back… You don’t think about stuff like that at the beginning, but as it happens you realise it’s something that you want and you can tick it off. You know, we’ve been abroad, we’ve been on the radio, and these were things that we didn’t realise until we were doing it all that it was something really special to happen to us.”

She continues, reflecting with the benefit of hindsight on just how special being signed to a label has been for them, as well as being reviewed in music magazines. “Being on a label definitely carries a mystique, even when you know it’s just one guy doing it in his spare time – it’s really special, knowing that someone has chosen to invest in you…and lots of people did. Also getting featured in print media – being to say to people that our record’s been reviewed, does take it up a level. People tend to take you a bit more seriously.”

All this talk of affirming, landmark events seems a world away from the band’s earliest dabblings, helpfully collected on merch-table Hatful Of Hollow-style rarities collection ‘B-Lines’. Listen to 2005’s ‘Snow Comes’, and there’s a definite indication of what would later come on their 2010 debut, ‘The Noyelle Beat’. Speaking about the development between the two stages in their career, guitarist Danny How thinks that gaining a better knowledge of their own strengths via their earlier efforts helped shaped their first long-player . “There were some songs that came about while we were in the middle of recording the first record and they seemed to play on the strengths of what we found to work on the other songs.” It’s a view Kupa agrees with, adding early gig experiences also helped to shape their initial direction in their own way. “We’ve always enjoyed rocking out, and we’ve always tried to keep that going. When you’re playing empty gigs to people who don’t care you can’t go out and do quiet, introspective stuff. You have to play loud, powerful stuff with a lot of vocals to get people’s attention”

The ensuing record, ‘The Noyelle Beat’, came out in 2010 on Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation (Thee SPC) and Melodic. Ask them whether there was a point where they felt they were ready to make their first record, and Emma Kupa details the gradual approach that shaped not only that record, but also much of the band’s activity in general. “We did it in stages – we had some demos and Thee SPC in Sheffield put a bit of money in, and we did a couple of days of recording and got about five songs down. Then six months down the line we recorded another five songs so it was just songs that had been knocking around for years, and some songs that had been written recently. Everything we’ve ever done has been gradual, there’s never been any big decisions - even when we did SXSW!” Echoing her matter of fact description of her relationship with the record when we spoke at last year’s Indietracks, she adds, “I don’t listen to it – it’s too familiar, we’re still playing songs off it at our shows. It’s really nice that other people find it really special, so in a way I appreciate it through them. I’m really proud of it, though.”

While the ‘The Noyelle Beat’ came after half a decade of hard graft and slog, the follow up, ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Town’, arrived comparatively soon afterwards, released through Melodic in January 2012. Speaking of the band’s mentality when making it, following the release and acclaim lavished on its predecessor, Danny How opines, “Having more people listening to what we were doing and enjoying what we were doing just spurred us on and made us realise that what we were doing was worthwhile. It needs to be said that we were still touring and playing a lot of shows while we were writing the second record, and it was quite a difficult process - to be constantly flicking between the two. But I think we came up with something that we were all happy with and we managed to bring in extra elements and extra instruments, rather than it being the three of us doing what we do.”

Andy Beswick chimes in to detail how the period between the two records – and the way the band used it as a learning exercise - helped to define it. “After all the gigging we’d done around and after the first record, we knew which songs worked and which ones didn’t. We used that to play to our strengths when writing the second album, from the knowledge of what worked well off the first record and from what we’d experienced at gigs. We probably tried harder as well, and we probably understood the whole process more and enjoyed it more as a result.” It’s only natural, then, that the conversation should take a turn towards what any future material would’ve sounded like and how it would have developed, had the group continued as a going concern, and again it’s left to Emma to give a refreshingly honest appraisal. “I think we would’ve made a similar record again, if I’m honest. I think we’d like to go in other directions, but if we were to carry on we’d have to gig it, and the only way we know how to play live is how we play. We’d probably write a similar album, but maybe push it a bit in places. It’s just hard to go in a really different direction when you know you’d have to gig it for a couple of years afterwards.”

Playing live has always been the Standard Fare way, gaining a fanbase organically through hard work (backed up with a truckload of expressive, punchy, songs and a veritable heap of talent, of course). It’s a a system which has served them well over the years, and nowhere was this most evident than at their last hometown show in Sheffield, held at a packed 400-capacity Queens Social Club. Initially they were due to play Shakespeare’s, the small venue used to hold the launch party for their second record. Danny How explains, “We’d originally organised it at Shakespeare’s, which is a 100-capacity venue, and we hoped we’d be able to make it look busy. The tickets went in a day. We were more than thrilled to be able to move it to somewhere bigger! Even then, there was that fear of ‘is it still only going to be that 100 people?’ To see it that full was nothing short of amazing.”

Kupa concurs, viewing it as a by-product of the years of searching for the right audience during the early stages of their career. “ I do think we’ve built up something of a fanbase over the past five years, and I think we’ve deserved it, having played to empty gigs or gigs to only a few people. It’s really, really nice to be in that position.” Press her over her relationship with Sheffield, and the group’s place in it over the years, and whether she feels the city is undervalued, she offers the view that because it isn’t all pigeon-chested bluster (nor presented as such), it will continue to act as a vibrant and self-sufficient musical outlet. “I don’t mind if it has [been under-represented]. It’s unpretentious as a place, and there’s loads of nice people and bands, and the bands that are coming out of there seem to do alright. I don’t think it’s necessarily all that bad. It doesn’t have to be arrogant or hailed as the greatest place ever or whatever. The people that know what’s going on, are the people who work there or live there or play music there.”

With show time fast approaching, there’s just enough time to ask if they feel they’ve any unfinished business or can the door be firmly closed, with no regrets? “I think we did the best that we could!” replies Andy Beswick, instantly and breezily. “I’ve certainly done the best that I could’ve done and I’m happy with what we’ve done, so…!” “The only thing we haven’t done is Japan, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.” adds Kupa. But looking over their activities and adventures over the past nine years, are they intrinsically proud of Standard Fare’s achievements? “Oh, yeah!” fires back Emma, swiftly. “ But the important thing is that we did it as a band, together, and that’s really nice…” She offers a wry smile across the table and fires her gaze at Beswick and How.”…the answering of questions isn’t necessarily a team effort, mind. But the other elements are, and always have been.”

All that’s left is one, final incendiary show, an-ill advised drunken impromptu 1am photoshoot in front of the 100 Club’s stage-backing sign resulting in a comedic, synchronised band falling over, and Andy How rounding up all he can like a booze-fuelled Lord Kitchener to partake in tequila shots. Then, that’s it. Despite the evening’s repeated en masse singalong of ‘The Noyelle Beat’ track ‘Dancing’ (”don’t give up, don’t quit don’t do it!”), Standard Fare, a band near-universally loved by all who had the pleasure to see them, were no more. As Pull Yourself Together promoter and DJ Dan Feeney remarked, astutely and concisely, “Standard Fare have made some of the best pop songs over the past three or four years. There’s a band for every generation that no-one talked about enough at the time, and then they go and everyone realises just how great they were, and that’s what’s going to happen tonight.”

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