Interview This Many Boyfriends Go Pop!

On the eve of the release of their debut, Gareth Ware finds out how losing a band member has made the Leeds act more determined than ever.

Watching This Many Boyfriends’ diminutive dynamo Richard Brooke (joined by guitarists Ben Siddall and Daniel Goux, and drummer Laura Black) supping a pint in a Leeds pub, on the cusp of the release of their début, seems a lifetime away from a wantonly mischievous incident in January 2010. That night saw him take to the stage in a packed Turkish bar in Rusholme, sporting a Leeds United shirt, the day after their shock win over Manchester United in the FA Cup. Enthusiastic and with a near-tangible aura of someone almost born to be in a band, he emits a wry chuckle at the memory. “Yeah, that was weird… It was probably one of my favourite ever gigs, though I think it needs to be said that the Leeds shirt was a mistake! I had a lot of people come to me after and say ‘Yeah, I thought you were good but what’s with that shirt? Do you want to get beaten up?”’

Discounting the improved choices of stage-wear and intervening alterations to the starting line-up (absent bassist Tom Mellor excepted, Brooke remains the only original member), a lot has changed in those two years. “That show was packed and it was brilliant, but we weren’t brilliant.” Richard adds bluntly, “We’re a very different band now. In the beginning it just used to be me and Alex (Wisgard, former guitarist) writing songs in Alex’s room, and then we’d make everyone else play it, and it was a horrible situation. We thought we were auteurs or something, we’d write it and everyone else would have to play it. It’s a proper collaborative effort now, with people constantly bringing ideas to the table. I think that’s how we’ve changed as a band and I think we’re more realistic now as well. After everything we’ve been through, we’ve formed the view that music’s great, but the most important thing is hanging out and having fun. Before it was all too serious and too regimented and that caused a fair few bad vibes, I think.”

That ‘everything’ alludes to a set of events would’ve brought most bands to their knees, let alone one that had yet to release their début record. Not once, but twice, the group were rocked by major personal tragedy; first guitarist Pete Sykes died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage late last year, followed by the death of a family member outside a show in Manchester in February. Speaking candidly about Sykes’ death, Brooke considers, “I think it’s made us work harder. We want to do him proud, and we don’t want his work to come to nowt. That said, I don’t think it changed the music at all. It would’ve been tawdry to have made something out of the fact that our friend died – it’s someone who I was really close to and spent a lot of time with dying, and that’s not something I’ve ever had before. I don’t think any of us has.” Siddall agrees, “It would’ve been really stupid to have written a song about it or something. It just would have been incredibly cheesy.”

Upon reflection, Richard feels that in a way the experiences have strengthened the group as a cohesive unit. “It makes you appreciate the band as mates - we’re a lot closer than we were before,” he tells us, “If you can gain anything from something like that it’s the way people were around us over it. We gained a lot of friends and you realise who your mates are.” “It definitely makes you appreciate people being nice,” adds Black, before giving a rueful roll of the eyes “and brings out the douche-bag in certain people.” “Yeah, there are people I don’t speak to any more,” divulges Brooke “but that’s by the by…”

But against the odds they’ve adapted – Siddall came on board in time for a pre-booked Maida Vale session. “I just wanted to help out really, and then I just didn’t stop turning up for stuff”, he jokes – resulting in their début offering aided by Cribs figurehead Ryan Jarman and Sebastian Lewsley at Edwyn Collins’ West Heath facility. “It’s really weird when you’re trying to make a first album, especially when you’ve been going for a few years,” muses Ben, “the way that you feel while you’re making it is not the way that you felt at the beginning, and you’ve got to try and represent what it was about at the beginning. It’s very honest sounding. It doesn’t sound as though it’s been glossed with all kinds of trickery. It’s just a document of what the early This Many Boyfriends was like. Or is like.” Black thinks the finished product is a success, thanks in large part to the resources afforded to them. “We had amazing equipment, an amazing studio and an amazing engineer and Ryan trying not to make it sound shit. It was expertly recorded so the only thing that’s maybe a bit ramshackle is us. But that’s kind of what we wanted as well. Ryan wanted to keep in the odd mistake because it’s both more like us live and also a bit more natural.”

Brooke concurs with both, feeling that Lewsley and Jarman’s efforts have offered an accurate representation of the band “Seb’s ace. The two of them are just totally different characters but they work really well together. Seb’s a very honest man - he didn’t bullshit. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t like it and he knew what he wanted us to sound like. It was great having Ryan there as well; he knew – and got - what we were about. It was really nice to have someone around that gave a shit; he was really excited about it. What I like about it, is that people will know what they’re getting themselves into. They can buy the record and then come and see us live, and it’ll sound the same.”

Anyone needing a concise, sub-two minute introduction to the band’s ethos need only listen to b-side ‘Just Saying’. Aiming its crosshairs firmly at those perceived as contrived or manufactured (“It’s a very simple fact, you’ll sell records if you look like that/There’s no need for hoods or veils, no need for a smoke machine/Just look us in the eye and tell us how you feel”), as is becoming customary, is frank and straightforward about its message. “Yeah, it’s definitely a mission statement in as much as I’m a really big fan of Jonathan Richman, and it’s always really plain and clear what he’s doing and he just really loves his music.” Richard tells us, “I think now there’s just so much cynicism. You’ll go see a band and they’ll all be dressed exactly the same and doing all their regimented guitar movements but they won’t be any good and yet they’ll still be lauded. People seem to have forgotten that you have to actually write a song, you can’t just have an idea. That doesn’t equate music to me at all. I think we are quite pure in that way – yes, we’ve probably copied some stuff but we’re being very honest about our limitations and our influences. It’s just what we can make, we’ve not looked at the market and tried to find a gap.”

Black is equally dismissive “You look at them and think that there’s no way they’ve hung around with their mates and decided to form a band. They’re a bunch of guys someone has gone ‘you look really cool, let’s give you some guitars and make some money off you.” Richard can barely contain his ire and surprises a few casual drinkers with the sheer volume with which he identifies his main target “SPECTOR! He put together a fucking band because he liked how they looked.” “Oh no, you’ve started the feud…” interjects Siddall, chuckling wryly with his head in his hands. “Seriously, I don’t care if we burn any bridges here,” Brooke continues, “they’re everything that’s wrong with music at the moment.”

“You can’t be in a band with people you don’t know. Do you think he travels separately to the rest of them when they’re on tour? I think it’s unfair to say that it’s just them but they’re the biggest exponent of it. You see it on a really small level as well, which means that it’s seeped into indie music. There are now created bands and that’s a terrifying thought, that it’s happening in the one thing that’s meant to be genuine. I look at The Cribs and I’m really happy we get compared to them. If there’s one band I want to be compared to it’s them - here’s no bullshit and they’ve managed to get into the charts without any artifice whatsoever.”

He suddenly mellows. “I don’t want this to be about how much we fucking hate everything. We really respect The Cribs, and a load of other bands that we’ve been around like Just Handshakes – they work so fucking hard. Their songs are brilliantly crafted and they’re great, but they get nowhere because they don’t have a deal and they have no-one backing them if they don’t look right. It’s just really irritating when you see people doing well who aren’t as good as the people we like.”

If Brooke’s rant demonstrates anything, it’s that This Many Boyfriends are a band unafraid to wear their heart (and influences) on their sleeve. When confronted by the assertion, backed up by their own lyrical namechecks to favourites such as Talking Heads or Jens Lekman, Richard laughs. “It’s easier than making stuff up! It’s easier than having to get really emotional as well. I don’t really want to put myself out there and for what goes on in my head to end up on a record because I don’t think that’s the place for it. It’s easy to write about things that you love – I’ve got a grounding in it, I’ve done a lot of research - listening to all those records hasn’t been a waste of time! It’s a hell of a lot easier than having to write about my life and maudlin songs about nothing.” “Could you imagine?” interjects Black, “It’d just be boring: got up, went to work, came home, ate a pizza, watched Coronation Street, went to bed.” Brooke mulls this over, “That’s the thing, when you’re in a long term relationship and everything’s nice – what am I going to fucking say? It’s the same for all of us, we’re all either living with our partners or in steady relationships. The balance comes from ‘Young Lovers….’ or ‘Number 1’ which are about relationships. If everything we did was just these cold dissections of pop music then it just wouldn’t be the same, but maybe there is a naivety about some of the stuff as well. Ultimately though, we’re not writing about pop songs, we’re writing about people.”

Spend any time with the band and it becomes evident that people are an intrinsic, important part of their world - be it their infectious, last-gang-in-town mentality or their relationship with their audience. In essence, they are a band perpetually existing in a state that’s dominated by the concept of fun. “I’ve said this before but I really, really hate people taking music seriously.” Richard opines, “Getting up and singing in front of people stupid, and so is playing guitar or drums or whatever. It’s something we’ve intrinsically made up as a civilisation and I think more people should realise that. People talk about ‘the process’ about making an album like they’ve given birth to a fucking child. Just write some songs and go and record them with your mates.” Laura is equally enthralled by life in a band and perplexed by those who complain about it, “You get to hang out with your mates all the time, and when you have to unload by 5pm and you’re not playing until 10pm or whatever then that’s five hours to hang out with your mates or the other bands or the promoters or whatever. How can that not be fun?! If being in a band is your day job, then your day job is hanging out with your mates. If you don’t find that fun then you’re an idiot.”

Nonetheless, deep down they’re a band who harbour a deep-rooted sense of ambition. As Brooke puts it, with a casual air that threatens to belie the enormity of the statement, “I want us to be the biggest band in the country. I’m not scared of that. I know we won’t be, but I’d love it if we were. What’s wrong with playing to shitloads of people? I’d love to be on Top Of The Pops - we’d be so out of place on anything big and I love that.” Black, meanwhile, divulges some of the offers that recent successes have brought them. “’Young Lovers….’ was on Made In Chelsea. It’s a shit programme, but it was funny to have that on there!” Brooke adds “Why would you turn stuff down? I have principles but it’s real life stuff. When it comes to the band I don’t give a shit. I’ll take money if it means I get to do this full time. If we can do this full time we can service people better - we can make better music, we can go on tour more often. If that means we have to licence a song for an advert for a company that we don’t agree with, then who cares? If that means we can do this all the time then brilliant.”

“That said, we’re not going to be a starving artists. There’s nothing worse than a fucking starving artist. I’m sick of people saying ‘I can’t get a job because I’m in a band’. Yes you fucking can. We do it so why can’t other people? It would be great if all we did was be in a band, but then again having a job keeps my mind fresh. If you don’t have a job and aren’t in the real word then you’re just going to write about mythical shit, aren’t you? Having a job means I’m around people that aren’t like me.”

Spend a day with This Many Boyfriends, and it’s easy to lose yourself in their pure, vibrant pop sensibilities. Free from pretension and piety, theirs is a refreshingly honest outlook, full of fun and frenzy and infused with dusty records, joyous club nights and an underlying sense of unwavering conviction. Ask Richard what he wants people to gain from this record and he’s clear that he wants “to inspire people. We’re making this look piss easy, because it’s in no way unachievable or cool, we’re just doing it. If one person went out and bought a guitar or a notebook and started writing songs then that would make my life.”

“I want a load of This Many Boyfriends clones. A load of bands that are fun…….”

This Many Boyfriends In The Studio

Ryan and Seb were late and we were locked out the studio so we were having a look around. Tom climbed up on the roof of the studio then fell asleep up there, where he would have got mega sunburned if Ryan and Seb hadn’t turned up. The rest of us were sat around eating Calippos.

A lot of buttons for Seb to mess around with and make us sound good. We spent a lot of time staring at that dinosaur.

We were joking about getting a bottle of champagne and cigars for when we finished the album. So I bought Ryan and Seb a £5 bottle of sparkling wine stuff and a pack of tobacco. I was so hungover I couldn’t actually drink any of the wine.

This Many Boyfriends new album ‘This Many Boyfriends’ will be released on 8th October via Angular Records.

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