We went along to meet one of Leeds' most promising up-and-coming bands, Apollo Junction, after their energetic gig at The Packhorse during Live At Leeds. The local five-some were down a man that day but resolutely decided to soldier on and bring their cheerful and polished indie pop to the festival. At a time when even signed bands are jostling for airspace, the chances of an unsigned act getting national radio airplay and boasting some of the land's finest DJs amongst their fanbase is almost unheard of. We were dying to know how they've managed to pull it off.
Contact Music: Hello Apollo Junction. How was your gig at Leeds' The Packhorse today?
Jamie Williamson [Vocals]: We're actually down a guy today, our keys player couldn't be here. Luckily, we managed to get all our stuff on to a computer and we managed not to pull out. We've never pulled out of a single gig.
CM: For such a new band, you have a sound and showmanship style that's quite mature. How do you manage that?
Jamie: We've spent a long time getting to this point. We're all good at what we do and we've spent a long time learning to play our instruments.
CM: How long have you guys been together as the unit we see here?
Matt Wilson [Guitar]: Since early 2012.
Jamie: We came together because we all knew each other from different bands and decided to start this one. We'd already recorded songs before we'd decided on the name and how it was going to work. It was all musical to start with. Our haircuts are too nice to not go out and play - we can't help it.
Ben Hope [Bass]: I've nicked mine off a piece of Lego! If you ever Google "Lego piece man" you'll find me.
CM: You've had a lot of attention from outlets like Radio 2 for your songs 'If I Fell' and 'Begin' without being signed. Do you think this is the way the industry's going? And will it benefit bands?
Jamie: We do everything ourselves, it's all DIY. But we take it as it comes. Every time we get played on radio it's like, 'Wow, another step.' Like the week we got in The Sun's 'Hot Tracks,' that was amazing.
Matt: And we were in The Times the week before that or something nutty. I know that every time something good happens me and Ben go out and get drunk and I've been spending a lot of time paralytic! When we got played on Radio 2, I nearly went into casualty.
CM: Radio 2's listenership is very different to that of say, Radio 1 or 6 Music. How did that make you view your audience?
Jamie: We've discussed this a lot but we've decided that airplay's airplay and we're happy to be played. It's difficult though because we see ourselves as a BBC6 Music band and I wouldn't call us a Radio 2 band, it's just that Graham Norton likes us and Graham Norton plays us. We're happy with airplay.
Matt: To me, if you're an unsigned band you can't argue with any airplay because it's just an honour. When we started playing music together we didn't think we were going to get our tracks played on the radio. Never! We've all been in bands before but we didn't think we were gonna get anywhere near that. BBC 6 is brilliant, Radio 2 is amazing so is XFM, who knows what the future holds?
CM: What has the fallout of all this attention been?
Matt: We've felt it a lot [everyone agrees]. We recently got a spam email from a professional autograph hunter saying he had someone sick and he wanted a signed picture of us.
Jamie: We get a lot of emails through the website but 5 or 10 percent of those are emails made up by the rest of the band, like "Stevie Wonder has been in touch, he wants to play with you." They'll set up an email address like email@example.com and you'll know it's Ben that's bored.
Ben: Yeah, I set one up form Bono saying "Ey, it's Bono here. Get in touch, we'll do a gig."
Jamie: It's pretty bizarre, we are seeing growth and as we keep going more people are interested in us. So we were in The Times and then The Sun got in touch. Doing it without a PR machine, we think well actually this is because all the songs are good.
CM: What's the next step for the band?
Matt: We've got a gig down in London which is an important one for us and we've got two or three new songs. We're trying to get a bit of strategy together for releasing them. Jamie's right, it's important how good the songs are and we're really organised but it's about coming up with that strategy and getting it right. It's not about writing a load of songs and hoping for the best, we've got to put the work into it so we've got to release at the right time. We're going to sit down with these three tracks and work out which is the right one to release. I don't think we'll do an EP: we'll probably just stick with singles. [Laughs] We have no plan!
Jamie: The thing that has always helped us and pushed us forward is the fact that every song has been written individually. Some bands go, 'Well, we've got that song, now we need another to go with it.' We don't do that and we never have. If we talk about what we want, we want to continue getting bigger and see how far we can take it.
CM: Have you had any record companies approaching you?
Jamie: We've had a few people talk to us, some small scale stuff but.
Matt: We're better than them.
Jonny Thornton [Drums]: Yeah, in terms of what we can do ourselves.
Matt: We worked with Mint Royale, the guy who did 'Singing In The Rain' and 'Tequila' by Terrorvision. He got in touch, which was amazing. Our tracks are produced by a guy called Jamie Berry who is very, very good. He works in electro-swing and he's doing really, really well for himself. He and our keyboard player wrote the song that is now the Autotrader advert.
CM: You're all great musicians but if you weren't in a band, what would you be doing?
Jamie: Life would be so dull.
Jonny: Just selling drugs or something.
Matt: I'd have probably moved away. If the band ended I'd have to leave. I'd have to go somewhere far away from it because it has taken over my life so much. If I wasn't in a band, I'd be miserable. I need that creative outlet.
Ben: I'd probably go back to playing acoustic gigs in old people's homes.
Matt: No Ben, it's if you're not a musician, remember?
Jamie: I'd do the worst thing of all.
Matt: Cut your hair? [Everyone laughs]
Jamie: .I'd have to go away and be normal. For me, that's the worst idea possible. What do you do with these melodies that you think of in the middle of the night if you've got no outlet?
Matt: Any time that stuff's bad in life I have got a creative outlet, it's an escape thing. I'd have to make up lies to tell girls on nights out. I couldn't go up to them and say that I'm in band. I'd have to come up with lies! I'd say I was a surgeon or something like that. I've got quite a posh boy accent so people would believe it.
CM: What would your dream merch item be to sell at gigs?
Ben: What a fantastic question! I would have either a mask of me or an Apollo Junction thumb wrestling ring that you'd put your thumbs through. [Everyone laughs]
Matt: I'd have to have an action figure where you pulled his back and he said stupid chat up lines to girls like, "I'm a surgeon!"
Jamie: We've been sending out cups to people who support us but merch-wise we could get a load of T-shirts but I don't really think we need to.
CM: You're not really into doing things by the book, are you?
Jamie: Playing gigs, getting on the radio, getting in the papers, the conventional things, is amazing but otherwise apart from that we have really good songs to rely on. We always say that we will die by those songs and that's what we'll go by. More and more people come to see us live each time and even seeing a room full of people like today is great because there are 40 or 50 venues with bands playing at the same time. So to have some people here is amazing for us and we're happy with that. As soon as this is done and we've packed all of our stuff away we're going to go out and watch other bands because that's just what it's about.
CM: Who are you looking forward to seeing today?
Matt: I'm looking forward to seeing bands that I don't know. This makes me sound evil but when I go watch bands like us, I think about how we compare with them, like, 'What does he do that's better than me on guitar?' I sit there and steal stuff from people so it's very important to me to watch these bands. Seeing big acts is fantastic but it would be contradictory of us as a smaller sized band to not go and watch other smaller sized bands and support the music scene because Leeds is desperate for it. Leeds is desperate for a new big band to come out. There hasn't been anyone massive since the Kaiser Chiefs. we need it. If we want that to be us we have to support music for music to support us.
CM: What's the biggest compliment anyone's paid the band so far?
Matt: Graham Norton said we were very handsome and then changed his mind and said he must have been pi**ed. He played us on radio and said, 'Apparently I called them very handsome once. I must have been pretty drunk!' I got a text from my dad saying, 'You just got slagged off by Graham Norton on national radio.'
Jamie: But he did say straight afterwards that he thought the song was ace, which is the most important thing.
Ben: I was on a night out with Matt about a year ago and this girl came up to us and said, 'Are you in Apollo Junction? Your music's brilliant.' It was unbelievable! We'd never even met her.
Jamie: I got stopped in Asda! Someone said they really liked the band. I was buying more of that cream [laughs]. No, I was in the garden section looking at gnomes or something [everyone laughs] going, 'These all look very similar to Matt!'
CM: Beliebers, Little Monsters; what are you going to call your fans?
Jamie: Matt keeps trying to call them but he can't get their numbers.
Matt: Junctioners? Apollites? Apollonians?
Ben: I'd probably let the fans come up with their name themselves on Facebook.
Jonny: Clever people.
CM: Was being played on the local BBC a big turning point for the band?
Matt: When Alan Raw started playing us, yeah. Definitely.
Jamie: Him and his producer have just been massive supports for us. And also the Yorkshire Evening Post, a local newspaper, they've been massive fans. Their team put together a preview video for Live At Leeds featuring all the big-hitters like Pulled Apart By Horses, Forward Russia! and all those and we were in the middle of it at all. That's amazing to us.
CM: After you've released the new songs, what will come next?
Jamie: We'll take whatever comes. As good as all the big things are like BBC Radio 6's Steve Lamacq backing us, Tom Ravenscroft, Chris Hawkins, obviously Graham Norton; we're always very aware that it started here in Leeds with BBC Leeds Introducing. That's such a big deal to us.
The hardest part is deciding which songs to release. 'If I Fell' sat for months with us going 'I like that song, it's good.' Then we put it out and it just took off all after we'd sat and talked about the song and left it sitting for so long.
Ben: We've got so many songs like that as well, just sat there.
Jamie: We've got 20-odd songs just sitting recorded and ready to go.
Matt: It's just such an honour, everything that has happened. Again, we've all been in bands before and even interviews like this - we just didn't get any interest from people normally. So obviously we're doing something right and we have to thank everybody who takes an interest in us.
Jamie: Has this become the thanks part of your speech? [More laughter]