Interview The Boy Least Likely To: ‘Love, Loneliness And Space’

Jof and Pete return with a new album. Words: Coral Williamson.

The Boy Least Likely To are not your standard rock ‘n’ roll band. They’re too nice, just like their wonderful indie-pop music. Jof Owens has parked up in a lay-by to chat; as he explains: “I was just driving to pick up some packages. I’ve got to post of loads of stuff. Not at all the rock star life.”

So if they’re not living the rock star life, what have they been up to for the last few years? Their last album, ‘Law Of The Playground’, was released in 2009, and since then all we’ve had is a B-Sides collection and a Christmas album. We’re not complaining, but seriously, what have they been up to?

Jof laughs. “It seems to have taken us ages, again. We always think it’ll be a year between each album, and then it ends up taking three or four, so it’s really exciting, it’s nice just to get stuff out again, otherwise it’s us, listening to our own songs in the studio. It’s nice to put it out there, so people can hear it, and people have said nice things about it so far, and hopefully people won’t be too horrible about it. It’s just nice to get out of the house.”
‘It’s just nice to get out of the house.’
‘The Great Perhaps’ is the duo’s newest album, and it’s clearly been a labour of love, although not a massive departure from how they normally write their albums. “We start writing the songs, then we just play around with the instruments and see what happens. Each song gets recorded three or four times, just trying stuff out, so each song effectively moves through a different genre, we try it out in different ways.

“Like the first album, that’s how we stumbled across using the banjo and the glockenspiel which nobody was really using at the time. We started using them, and that’s how the sound sort of came. And the second album, we thought a little bit more about that, we had an idea but it took ages still. And with this one we wanted to do something a little bit different, and not maybe rely on the glockenspiel and the banjo, but still wanted it to sound like us.

“So we tried loads of different things out, and saw what worked and what didn’t - a lot of it didn’t work,” he continues. “There was a bad day when I came in and Pete had turned one of our songs into a reggae song, we knew we’d pushed that one too far. That was a direction we definitely weren’t going in. It’s a boxset gem I think, the reggae version of ‘Lucky To Be Alive’.”

By the sounds of things, there’s going to be plenty of potential boxset gems. For ‘The Great Perhaps’, Jof and Pete went through PledgeMusic, offering exclusive treats to fans. Some lucky fans had songs written about them, among other strange topics.

“I think that’s the thing I enjoyed most. We’re in the process of recording them at the moment, but people sent us weird things that they wanted us to write songs about. A cat with a balance problem, things like that… and it’s great because they’re things we’d have never written about. They’re pretty weird songs; if you put them together it would make a pretty weird album.’

“It was a really fun thing to be able to do,’ he adds. ‘And you got to talk to fans and stuff, about the way they’d found us, the part we’d played in their lives, it sounds quite dramatic but it’s weird, you don’t realise that you actually mean something to people. People met because they met at a gig of ours, it’s nice to read those kinds of stories.”
‘You don’t realise that you actually mean something to people.’
Jof seems to really value the link between music and people, as is obvious when we talk about the fact that five per cent of any extra money raised in their PledgeMusic campaign went towards the charity YouthMusic. “That was a thing Pete wanted to do, for him it’s a really personal charity. For both of us, the part that music’s played in our lives, especially in our childhood and growing up, just how important it is, and how it can take you out from somewhere, if the situation’s not always great, it can be an amazing thing to have in your life. Music can take you places, so it’s a cool charity. If music’s a big part of your life, you know what a difference it can make when times are shit.”

The PledgeMusic campaign also had another purpose; reminding fans that the band existed. “For us,” Jof says, “we’re aware that we’ve been taking slightly longer over the record than we were meant to, and if you take too long between records people find other things to get into, other bands to like.

“I think we just wanted to do something that meant we could start pushing the album six months ahead of release, start talking about it, and bring fans back. So that was what appealed to us about it. And it was nice, we’ve always had quite a hardcore fanbase, I knew they’d appreciate some of the things we did, like personalised songs and artwork.”

Eventually we manage to start talking about their new album, finally fitting it in our chat in between talks of astronauts and the music industry. The title, ‘The Great Perhaps’, comes from the writer Francois Rabelais, who said on his deathbed that he was off to seek a great perhaps. “I guess he was talking about the great unknown,” suggests Jof.

“For him it was death, but it’s also that idea of the things we don’t know about. It seemed to fit a lot of the other themes on the album; love, loneliness and space. You never really know what these things are; as much as you try, it’s impossible to know everything. And the idea of the alternative life you didn’t lead… everyone takes certain routes through their life, and there’s so many routes they didn’t take.”

As well as the theme of what ifs, which is most obviously seen on ‘It Could’ve Been Me’, there’s also a song dedicated to Michael Collins, aptly called ‘Michael Collins’. Little known fact: Michael Collins was the third astronaut on the Apollo 11 space mission. As Jof explains: “I was reading a book about Apollo 11 and the moon landings, I never thought there was a third astronaut. It’s so weird that there’s an astronaut - everyone knows about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, it seems strange there’s a third one, that people don’t know about at all.
‘We always intend to make a record every year.’
“And in a way he turned out to be the interesting one, he’s a great writer, a great thinker; he’s so poetic, it’s like sending a poet into space. Orbiting the moon, waiting for them; and he had to pass round the back of the moon, and in that time he was completely with any humans, on earth and on the moon. To experience that must be a pretty amazing thing.”

Anyone on the fence about The Boy Least Likely To (although really, why would you be?) could listen to ‘The Great Perhaps’ over at Pitchfork Advance ahead of its release. Jof seems largely positive about online streaming, claiming: “It’s such a strange world at the moment in music, I think in a way streaming doesn’t have an effect on us, it just means more people can hear it. We don’t make a lot of money through CD sales, so it’s not going to affect us if people listen for free. I think a lot of people who stream music, buy it as well; people that only stream, they might not have bought it anyway. I don’t know if it’s taking money out of revenue streams, I think people are consuming more, in different ways, I guess.

“If people had thought more about CDs when they first came out, making them something people would cherish as much as vinyl, maybe we’d be in a better position. People expect everyone to legally download something, pay £8, £9, but as soon as you’ve bought it, it’s worthless. It’s very difficult to see why someone would want to buy something that has no resale value. People like to feel like they’ve bought something, that it is actually worth something,” he adds.

On the subject of vinyl, Jof is apologetic for failing to get anything in the shops in time for Record Store Day. “I’ll be going to record shops, that’s what I’m doing to celebrate. We tried to get vinyl back in time, but we just thought about it too late. We’ll do something next year. I’ve worked in record shops, on Record Store Day, and it’s just a great day. I felt a bit bad that we didn’t get our shit together to do something in time.”

The Boy Least Likely To are not rock stars. They’re more likely to write a fan a song about a cat with balance problems than they are snub them after a show. And ‘The Great Perhaps’ is an album that could only be made by guys as nice as Jof and Pete. Hopefully it won’t be another four years until the next one, but as Jof says as we wrap up our chat: “We always intend to make a record every year. We might make another record over the summer, you never know, but it could be another four years. We’ve just got to keep it going.”

The Boy Least Likely To’s new album ‘The Great Perhaps’ is out now via Too Young To Die.

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